Updated: 12/19/2013 11:54 PM
Created: 12/19/2013 11:28 PM KAALtv.com
(ABC 6 News) -- A comprehensive defense bill changing the way sexual assault is handled in the military has been approved by the Senate.
The issue was a point of contention between the Senate and Pentagon. Senators argued the military had diminished the trust of soldiers and the public. Officials with the Pentagon said they needed to be able to police their own ranks.
The bill does not include a proposal cosponsored by Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-IA, that would have required sexual assault cases be handled outside the chain of command.
However, the measure would take away commanders' authority to overturn jury convictions and require a civilian review if a commander decides not to prosecute. The bill would also provide legal counsel to alleged victims.
“I’m glad we were able to continue to push through the partisan gridlock and do what the people sent us here to do,” Sen. Al Franken, D-MN, said in a statement. “This bill will help make sure our troops are taken care of and kept safe. While this bill does take some steps toward curbing the atrocious problem of sexual assault in the military, it also highlights how much more work needs to be done to protect service members who are survivors of these heinous crimes.”
Last year alone there were an estimated 26,000 sexual assaults in the military.
The bill would also keep Guantanamo Bay, Cuba open, and give President Barack Obama more flexibility when it comes to deciding the fate of terror suspects there.
The bill also authorizes a 1 percent pay raise for military personnel and funds to destroy chemical weapons in Syria among other things.
The legislation will head to President Obama for his signature.