House panel plans mid-July consideration of military justice overhaul

The House Armed Services Committee is planning to consider in mid-July a bill that would overhaul the military justice system in an effort to tackle the pervasive problem of sexual assault, the panel’s chairman said Tuesday.

Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) told reporters the consideration of the stand-alone bill from Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) would come on top of trying to tackle the issue through the annual defense policy bill.

“I think I know enough about legislation that you have to come at it from a variety of different angles to get it done,” Smith said on a conference call with reporters.

“We’re gonna mark that up in mid-July as a stand-alone bill, and we’ll move that, and then we’re also going to move it within the NDAA,” Smith added, referring to the National Defense Authorization Act.

Last week, Speier, along with Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio) and a bipartisan group of House members, introduced a House companion to the military justice reform bill being pushed in the Senate by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).

The bill would remove the decision to prosecute major crimes from the chain of command, instead giving that responsibility to independent military prosecutors.

In a major change, Pentagon leaders have endorsed removing the decision to prosecute sex crimes from the chain of command.

But they have continued to argue against removing other crimes from it, as Gillibrand and Speier’s bills would.

Gillibrand and supporters have argued that reforming the military justice system but only for sex crimes could create a so-called pink court, segregating crimes that mostly involve women and further stigmatizing victims.

Gillibrand has also been arguing that her broader reforms could help address the known racial disparities in the military justice system.

She has been pushing for a stand-alone vote on her bill in the Senate, but has repeatedly been blocked by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack Reed (D-R.I.).

Reed, who supports the military justice reform for sex crimes but not other major crimes, has said the issue is best tackled in the NDAA, but Gillibrand argues addressing it in the massive defense bill is an effort to water down her proposal.

Smith, who has previously endorsed removing sex crimes from the chain of command, said Tuesday he was undecided on whether to support removing commanders from the decision to prosecute all major crimes.

“I’ve spoken with Sen. Gillibrand several times; she’s made a reasonably compelling case about it, about why it should be all felonies, why it is a cleaner way to do it,” Smith said. “But I am listening to experts and examining arguments to figure out what the best approach is.”

Among the concerns Smith raised about Gillibrand’s bill was that some felonies, such as drug crimes, would not be covered by the reforms, while some misdemeanors often linked with sex assault and harassment, such as domestic violence, would also not be affected.

“We have to make this change,” he added. “There is no question about it. But, like I said, we’ve got the two approaches, I’m trying to figure out what the best approach is.”

Tags Adam Smith Jack Reed Jackie Speier Kirsten Gillibrand Mike Turner Military justice Military Justice Improvement Act military justice system National Defense Authorization Act NDAA Sex crimes Sexual assault Sexual misconduct
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