Story highlights

A bipartisan group of senators is pushing the Military Justice Improvement Act

The legislation would create an independent military justice system

Efforts earlier this year failed to net enough support to pass the Senate

(CNN) —  

A bipartisan group of senators is again pushing for a vote this year on a measure that would change the way the military handles serious crimes like rape.

The group, led by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York), renewed a push to pass the Military Justice Improvement Act that would create an independent military justice system to deal with serious crimes, taking the decision about whether to prosecute a case out of the hands of commanders – so-called “convening authorities” – and placing it in the hands of trained military prosecutors.

The bill garnered 55 votes in the Senate in March, 5 short of the 60 needed to move forward. The senators said Tuesday there was still time to pass the legislation and they are urging their leadership to allow amendments to the annual National Defense Authorization Act when the Senate takes it up or to allow an up or down vote on the measure.

Senate clears military sex assault prosecution bill

“We will continue to fight to strengthen our military,” said Gillibrand, who plans to hold a series of meetings with colleagues in the coming days, in hopes of moving the bill closer to passage.

The New York Democrat has long been an advocate of reforming the military justice system in hopes of reducing the number of sexual assaults in the military.

Gillibrand was joined by Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Barbara Boxer (D-California), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) and Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) and retired Air Force Chief Prosecutor Colonel Don Christensen, who was profiled by The New York Times Magazine on Sunday for his work prosecuting sexual assault cases.

“Enough is enough,” Cruz said. “The time to solve this crisis is now.”

Christensen, who argued it was “vital” to align the military justice process with American civilian justice, also said that President Barack Obama could make some changes to the courts martial process unilaterally through executive order with some limitations.

It is not yet clear whether this legislation will be taken up this year, but Gillibrand vowed to continue fighting to get it passed.

Report: More than 1,300 military sex harassment claims last year