Gillibrand proposal not in Defense bill's final cut

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s (D-N.Y.) proposal to take military sexual assault cases outside the chain of command is not included in the final Defense authorization bill, a congressional aide with knowledge of the bill’s contents told The Hill.

But the bill contains a series of provisions that will dramatically overhaul how the military handles sexual assault cases, some of the most sweeping changes Congress has made on the issue.

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The legislation, which will be formally announced by the House and Senate Armed Services Committees later on Monday, strips commanders’ ability to overturn guilty verdicts, requires mandatory discharge for those convicted of sexual assault and expands a counsel program for assault victims, according to the aide.

The bill would also criminalize retaliation against victims, establish a higher-level review of cases and give victims more protection during the military’s pretrial court process, known as Article 32.

The Defense measure will not include Gillibrand’s amendment. She had proposed the most far-reaching change to the military's judicial system.

Her measure would take the decision to prosecute sexual assault and other major crimes away from commanders, giving it to military prosecutors. 

At the same time, the Defense bill also does not contain a competing amendment from Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) that would make other reforms but would not go as far as Gillibrand's.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) tried to get votes on both amendments when then Defense bill was on the floor before Thanksgiving, but Republicans objected to their amendments not receiving votes.

Now the House and Senate plan to move the Defense bill without including any additional amendments.

Most of the provisions included in the Defense bill to address sexual assault were already in the underlying authorization measures that passed the House and the Senate Armed Services panels.

One exception was the Article 32 proposal, a version of which was introduced by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) in the Senate and Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio) in the House last month, according to the aide.

That measure, which was prompted by a case at the Naval Academy where a victim was subjected to lengthy and invasive questioning, has widespread support.

Gillibrand and her supporters have said they support the other sexual assault provisions included in the bill, but argue they don’t go far enough to address the heart of the problem.

Congress has proposed dozens of new measures in response to several military sexual assault incidents this year, as well as a Pentagon report estimating there were 26,000 cases of unwanted sexual contact in 2012, an increase of one-third from 2010.

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