By Associated Press
With broad support from Republicans and Democrats, a House committee Wednesday approved legislation to tackle the growing problem of sexual assault in the armed forces by taking away the power of military commanders to overturn convictions in rape and assault cases.
Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., praised what she called "sweeping reforms" and said such action from Congress was long overdue.
"Never under any circumstances should any member of our armed services feel threatened in another one's presence," Noem said.
"This conversation has gone on for too long."
The bill passed by the House Armed Services Committee also requires that anyone found guilty of a sex-related crime receive a punishment that includes, at a minimum, a dismissal from military service or a dishonorable discharge.
"The word should go out clearly and strongly that if you commit a sexual assault in the military, you are out," said Rep. Michael Turner, R-Ohio. Turner and Rep. Niki Tsongas, D-Mass., wrote many of the provisions in the House bill.
By stripping commanders of their longstanding authority to reverse or change court-martial convictions, lawmakers are aiming to shake up the military's culture and give victims the confidence that if they report a crime their allegations won't be discounted and they won't face retaliation.
Noem had pushed for three provisions that were included in the bill passed by the committee.
The full House is expected to vote on the bill next week.