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Military Justice Reformers Pushing Senate Candidates To Pledge To Support Guillén Bill

Painted portrait of Vanessa Guillen surrounded by flowers at her memorial service.
Vanessa Guillén's memorial service was streamed online in August.

The legislation would remove sexual assault and harassment prosecutions from the military chain of command.

Advocates for military justice reform want candidates for the U.S. Senate to pledge support to removing commanding officers from making charging decisions in rape and sexual assault cases.

The group Protect Our Defenders is pushing a bipartisan bill named for Vanessa Guillén, a soldier killed at Fort Hood, where she was based. Guillén had told her family she was being sexually harassed.

Legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives would give charging decisions in military sexual assault and harassment cases to independentmilitary lawyers.

Protect Our Defenders President Don Christensen wants Senate candidates to pledge their support to this kind of change in how the military handles these kinds of crimes.

“I know the Senate’s really distracted with a lot of other issues,” Christensen said. “But that’s why it’s so important that we have this pledge right now to focus the Senatorial candidates on this issue.”

Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn has voted against similar reforms in the past. His November opponent, Democrat M.J. Hegar, told KERA earlier this year she supports them.

Texas’ other Republican U.S. Senator, Ted Cruz, has long supported this reform.

Bret Jaspers is a reporter for KERA. His stories have aired nationally on the BBC, NPR’s newsmagazines, and APM’s Marketplace. He collaborated on the series Cash Flows, which won a 2020 Sigma Delta Chi award for Radio Investigative Reporting. He's a member of Actors' Equity, the professional stage actors union.