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Gillibrand reintroduces proposal to confront military sexual assault

Gillibrand reintroduces proposal to confront military sexual assault
© Greg Nash

Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandPentagon chief backs change to military sexual assault prosecution Overnight Defense: Joint Chiefs warn against sweeping reform to military justice system | Senate panel plans July briefing on war authorization repeal | National Guard may have 'training issues' if not reimbursed Joint Chiefs warn against sweeping reform to military justice system MORE (D-N.Y.), a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, on Thursday reintroduced her bill to tackle military sexual assault.

Dubbed the Military Justice Improvement Act, the bill would take the decision to prosecute sexual assault cases away from military commanders and give it to independent military prosecutors.

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“Our nation’s military leaders have spent decades promising ‘zero tolerance’ on sexual assault, but it’s painfully clear that they’ve failed at that mission. The Pentagon, by its own admission, is out of time – and should now be out of excuses,” Gillibrand said in a statement Thursday. “For years, survivor after survivor has told us the change we need to make in the military justice system to end the scourge of sexual assault in our military – the same change that some of our allies all around the world have already made: move the decision to try these crimes outside of the chain of command to trained military prosecutors.”

Gillibrand has introduced the bill every year since 2013 as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

The proposal has not been voted on in the last couple years amid broader disputes over which amendments get voted on for the NDAA. The last time the amendment got a vote in 2015 it did not reach the 60-vote threshold needed to pass.

The Pentagon and other opponents of the proposal argue it would undermine the military justice system.

In her statement, Gillibrand slammed the “incremental reforms” the Pentagon has taken in past years, saying “they clearly haven’t worked.”

“Sexual assault is still pervasive – in fact the latest DoD numbers show that sexual assaults in the military have dramatically increased while the number of cases going to trial has gone down,” she said. “None of this is acceptable. It’s long past time for Congress to step up and create accountability where the DoD has failed.”

The Pentagon’s latest report on sexual assault showed the number of cases of unwanted sexual contact — a term that covers groping to rape — jumped to 20,500 in 2018 from 14,900 in 2016.

Gillibrand’s bill has 29 co-sponsors, including fellow Democratic presidential candidates Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Senate to vote on elections bill Supreme Court battle could wreak havoc with Biden's 2020 agenda Progressives fear nightmare scenario over voting rights assault MORE (D-Mass.), Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetDemocrats make full-court press on expanded child tax credit Congress needs to fix the broken market for antibiotic development Schumer vows to only pass infrastructure package that is 'a strong, bold climate bill' MORE (D-Colo.), Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharSchumer vows next steps after 'ridiculous,' 'awful' GOP election bill filibuster Senate GOP blocks voting rights bill The antitrust package is a Trojan horse conservatives must reject MORE (D-Minn.), Cory BookerCory BookerHarris casts tiebreaking vote to confirm OPM nominee White House says Biden crime address won't undercut police reform bill Racial reparations at the USDA MORE (D-N.J.), Bernie SandersBernie SandersSchumer vows next steps after 'ridiculous,' 'awful' GOP election bill filibuster Schumer, Pelosi meeting with White House on infrastructure Feehery: 8 reasons why Biden should take the bipartisan infrastructure deal MORE (I-Vt.) and Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisA call to action for strategic space competition with China Old-guard Democrats must end the filibuster and symbolic progress Biden job approval at 43 percent in Iowa: poll MORE (D-Calif.).

The bill also has a few Republican co-sponsors: Sens. Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyBiden's program for migrant children doesn't go far enough The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden support, gas tax questions remain on infrastructure 64 percent of Iowans say 'time for someone else' to hold Grassley's Senate seat: poll MORE (Iowa), Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzSenate Republicans: Newly proposed ATF rules could pave way for national gun registry DeSantis tops Trump in 2024 presidential straw poll White House denies pausing military aid package to Ukraine MORE (Texas) and Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulPoll: 58 percent say Fauci should not resign Fauci says he puts 'very little weight in the craziness of condemning me' Senate confirms Biden pick for No. 2 role at Interior MORE (Ky.).

The Senate version of the NDAA already includes several provisions meant to tackle sexual assault, including making sexual harassment a stand-alone crime in the military justice system, requiring a new policy to “reinvigorate the prevention of sexual assault” and requiring commanders to be trained in all stages of military justice related to sexual assault.

The House Armed Services Committee, meanwhile, approved Wednesday an amendment to its version of the NDAA to create a pilot program for a chief prosecutor to make recommendations on prosecuting sexual assault at military service academies rather than commanders.