McCaskill’s Sexual-Assault Bill Sails Through Senate

But, unlike a proposal from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, it doesn’t take away a commander’s ability to decide if a sexual-assault case should be prosecuted.

WASHINGTON - NOVEMBER 18: Subcommittee chairman Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) speaks during a hearing of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee's Contracting Oversight Subcommittee on Capitol Hill November 18, 2010 in Washington, DC. The subcommittee held the hearing about contracts and the role of the Special Inspector General in Afghanistan. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)
National Journal
Jordain Carney
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Jordain Carney
March 10, 2014, 5:12 p.m.

Sen. Claire Mc­Caskill’s bill to change the way the mil­it­ary handles sexu­al-as­sault cases passed the Sen­ate with over­whelm­ing — and ex­pec­ted — sup­port Monday, with a 97-0 vote. 

The le­gis­la­tion, which Mc­Caskill craf­ted along with Sens. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., and Deb Fisc­her, R-Neb., would al­low vic­tims to have a say on wheth­er their cases are tried in mil­it­ary or ci­vil­ian court, al­low them to chal­lenge their dis­charge or sep­ar­a­tion from the ser­vice, and would get rid of the “good sol­dier” de­fense — which uses a sol­dier’s mil­it­ary per­form­ance to com­bat al­leg­a­tions — ex­cept in cases that dir­ectly link a sol­dier’s mil­it­ary be­ha­vi­or to the crime.

It would also ex­tend to the mil­it­ary ser­vice academies re­cent sexu­al-as­sault changes in­cluded in the Na­tion­al De­fense Au­thor­iz­a­tion Act that re­late to sexu­al-as­sault pre­ven­tion and re­sponse pro­grams.

“Un­an­im­ous agree­ment in the U.S. Sen­ate is pretty rare — but rarer still is the kind of sweep­ing, his­tor­ic change we’ve achieved over the past year in the mil­it­ary justice sys­tem,” Mc­Caskill said. “Today the Sen­ate voted to strengthen even fur­ther what is now one of the most vic­tim-friendly justice sys­tems in the world.”

The bill also had the back­ing of Sen­ate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee Chair­man Carl Lev­in, D-Mich., who said Monday that the le­gis­la­tion “in­cludes real and im­port­ant re­forms” and “will surely make a ma­jor con­tri­bu­tion in pro­tect­ing the troops who pro­tect us.” 

But it doesn’t go as far as a com­pet­ing pro­pos­al by Sen. Kirsten Gil­librand, which would have stripped from com­mand­ers the power to de­cide which sexu­al-as­sault cases are pro­sec­uted. That le­gis­la­tion, which vic­tims-ad­vocacy groups backed and the Pentagon op­posed, failed to get the sup­port of 60 sen­at­ors it needed last week on a pro­ced­ur­al vote.

The New York Demo­crat said that she would try to get her bill in­cluded in the next de­fense au­thor­iz­a­tion round.

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"The Senate on Wednesday approved legislation ensuring sexual assault survivors in federal criminal cases have access to forensic evidence collection kits, sending the bill to President Obama's desk. The legislation, known as the Survivors’ Bill of Rights Act, was passed by unanimous consent as lawmakers prepare to leave Washington until after the election. The House passed the measure earlier this month."

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