WASHINGTON (AP) — The House is heading toward passage of a sweeping defense bill that reflects the outrage among lawmakers over the growing number of sexual assaults in the military.
The legislation is expected to be completed Friday and includes a measure requiring a mandatory minimum sentence of two years in prison for a member of the armed services convicted of rape or sexual assault in a military court.
"Being in a military uniform should not be a get-out-of-jail card," said Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, who proposed the measure that House lawmakers included in the bill authorizing spending for the 2014 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.
The additional punishment is part of a series of steps lawmakers have taken to tackle the growing problem of sexual assault. Both the House and Senate appear determined to shake up the military's culture in ways that would ensure victims that if they report a crime, their allegations won't be discounted and their careers won't be jeopardized.
Once completed, the House bill must be reconciled with the Senate's version.
The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said Thursday the panel's 2014 defense policy bill included a provision requiring an automatic review by an individual higher in the chain of command should a commander decide not to prosecute an allegation of sexual assault. The committee's bill also would make it a crime to retaliate against victims who report a sexual assault and would strip commanders of the authority to dismiss court-martial convictions.
Levin called the automatic review provision "a very significant protection and assurance of the seriousness with which allegations are going to be taken and not simply swept under the rug by a lawyer or by anybody."
The full Senate will take up the committee's bill in the coming weeks.