- Associated Press - Thursday, March 13, 2014

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - Legislation intended to ensure victims can report sexual assaults and other crimes involving state military personnel remains alive following a legislative panel’s unanimous vote Thursday.

The House Veterans Affairs Committee approved the measure.

Under the bill, state military forces would be required to file an annual report with the governor and the Legislature detailing sexual abuse allegations within the forces. It would also make it illegal for a commander to interfere in the reporting process.

Victims would have the choice to file restricted reports, in which the cases would be handled exclusively within the forces, or unrestricted reports, in which the commander would be obligated to notify local law enforcement. Victims would also reserve the right to report to local law enforcement independently.

Rep. Ruth Ann Gaines, D-Des Moines, proposed an amendment to further ensure victims feel comfortable in coming forth with their allegations. Her plan would clarify that victims have the choice to pursue legal action outside of the military, in an effort to keep the control within the victim’s hands.

“I think we need to look at the victim, and the stress and trauma that a victim goes through,” she said.

But the panel claimed a victim’s rights are already guaranteed in the bill and rejected the proposal.

“I believe they have addressed that in the bill as written,” said committee chairman Rep. Dwayne Alons, R-Hull. “I believe with the way it came over from the Senate, in full agreement, bipartisan support, I’m not sure that we should be tampering with it at this point.”

With or without the amendment, Rep. Roger Thomas, D-Elkader said, the legislation needs to better define the process, as he fears victims might shy from making a report if he or she doesn’t fully understand what can be done.

“I think that there’s still something in there that we need to do to be sure that we consider the victim and not make the process so that the victim won’t report,” he said.

The legislation is now eligible for House floor debate.

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