By Jeremy Herb
The legislation would also require any service member convicted of sexual assault to be at a minimum dismissed from the military, and would move those accused of sexual assault temporarily out of a unit, rather than the victim.
The issues surrounding sexual assault and the chain of command are shaping up to be the most heated policy debate on sexual assault in this year’s Defense authorization bill, which will be the vehicle for the roughly 10 measures that have been introduced on the issue this year.
Congress is poised to make changes to the way the military handles sexual assault cases in the wake of a Pentagon report that estimated there were 26,000 assaults last year, up from 19,000 in 2010.
“I’m not opposed to the Gillibrand legislation,” McCaskill told reporters Thursday. “I think we need to look at all provisions and look at what can get passed in a unified way.”
McCaskill and the other lawmakers at Thursday’s press conference emphasized the importance of presenting legislation that can attract lawmakers from both parties — as well as the military leadership.
McCaskill said Thursday that Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) was planning on a committee hearing after the Memorial Day recess in order for the committee to evaluate all of the sexual assault proposals.
She also noted that Levin wants to debate the legislation in the full Armed Services Committee, rather than the Personnel subpanel, where Gillibrand is chair.
“The important thing is try to get as many of us to agree on these reforms, so what we don’t end up with is legislation that is a party-line vote or that is in the Senate bill, but they will not accept it in the House,” McCaskill said.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and the top military brass have endorsed removing a commanders’ ability to overturn guilty verdicts, but they have only said they were “open” to considering taking cases outside the chain of command.
On the House side, Republicans have expressed some resistance to taking cases outside the chain of command. House Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) said he was considering all proposals but has expressed concerns about the unintended consequences if cases are removed from commanders’ hands.
Turner, who is opposed to removing the decision to prosecute cases from military commanders, noted Thursday that their legislation has the support both House Armed Services committee leaders and is included in the initial mark of the Defense authorization bill.
Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), who has introduced legislation to create a special office to prosecute sexual assault cases, is already planning amendments to the authorization bill.
Gillibrand’s legislation has 15 Senate co-sponsors, including three Republicans. One of the co-sponsors is Collins, who spoke alongside McCaskill Thursday.
“I’m sure there will be a vigorous debate, but I think it’s a good idea to have alternative approaches introduced, because we’ll get some expertise some testimony before Armed Services that will help us sort out what would be the most effective approach,” Collins said after the press conference.
“I don’t’ think anyone is absolutely confident of what is going to be the most effective reform we can implement, so that’s why I see it as productive to have more than one.”