Maine’s senators split their votes Thursday on a bill to transfer the decision over whether to prosecute rape and other serious crimes from military commanders to military trial lawyers.
Maine Sen. Susan Collins supported Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s bill while Sen. Angus King opposed it.
Both supported moving forward with consideration of a competing but less-sweeping bill written by Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.
Collins co-sponsored but ultimately endorsed the proposal to give military prosecutors – rather than commanders – the decision about whether to pursue charges in sexual assault cases.
“Senator Gillibrand’s bill is a reasonable proposal designed to communicate to survivors and potential perpetrators alike that when survivors are subjected to these unacceptable, horrific crimes, they will have access to a legal system that fully protects their interests,” Collins said in a floor speech.
Collins also praised the courage of sexual assault survivors – including Maine veterans Ruth Moore and Jennifer Norris – who have spoken out in Washington on their experiences.
King, an independent who serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he eventually opted to support McCaskill’s proposal over Gillibrand’s after lengthy conversations with both senators, military leaders and veterans.
Ultimately, King said, he concluded that Gillibrand’s bill – although well-intentioned – “was a step in the wrong direction and that it would have actually undermined what we have to do to solve this problem.”
“I want the commander to be responsible for this kind of conduct because then they have the incentive to lead the change in the culture that is necessary to solve it,” King said.