Joint Chiefs to testify on sexual assault legislation

Several high-profile incidents in recent months coupled with a Pentagon report estimating the number of assaults in 2012 had risen by a third has sparked momentum in Congress to change the military judicial code.

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The two bills that have generated the most debate surround the military's chain of command.

Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandDem senator: 'One of our closest allies' expressed concern about intelligence sharing Intel chief quiet on whether Trump asked him to deny Russia evidence Gillibrand on Trump: 'We should look into obstruction of justice' MORE (D-N.Y.) has proposed legislation that would take the decision to prosecute felony-level cases outside of the chain of command and give it to military prosecutors. She says her bill will encourage sexual assault victims to report the crimes.

Rep. Jackie Speier (R-Calif.) has legislation that would create an independent office to investigate and prosecute sexual assault crimes.

Opponents of the measures say that the commander is responsible for life and death decisions for his troops and must retain the ability to choose to punish them in order to maintain good order and discipline. 

So far, Defense Secretary Chuck HagelChuck HagelLobbying World The US just attacked Syria. So where's Congress? Senators tear into Marines on nude photo scandal MORE and Dempsey have said they are open to all proposals and are not weighing in on specific legislation, although Hagel had expressed support for the chain of command before Gillibrand’s bill was released.

Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl LevinCarl LevinDemocrats and Republicans share blame in rewriting the role of the Senate For the sake of American taxpayers, companies must pay their fair share What the Iran-Contra investigation can teach us about Russia probe MORE (D-Mich.) and ranking member James InhofeJames InhofeGOP skeptical of Trump plan for paid parental leave Five roadblocks for Trump’s T infrastructure plan Trump admin delays greenhouse gas measurement rule for highways MORE (R-Okla.) sent a letter to Dempsey last week asking him to weigh in on the various legislation.

The Armed Services panels are considering the various pieces of sexual assault legislation to include as part of the annual Defense authorization bill.

The military has already backed one reform to the Uniform Code of Military Justice that is included in a number of lawmakers’ bills. The measures would strip military commanders’ ability to overturn a jury’s guilty verdict in a post-trial review, a change that has been proposed in response to an Air Force sexual assault case earlier this year.

The hearing will also give the military a chance to discuss a number other provisions that have been proposed in roughly a dozen bills. Those range from granting victims whistleblower protections to transferring service members accused of assault out of units to requiring dismissal for those convicted of sexual assault or rape.