An amendment that would prevent the government from working with contractors who deny victims of sexual assault the right to bring their case in court has survived attempts to dull its impact and seems poised to become law.
The Senate Committee on Appropriation passed, on Tuesday, a defense appropriations bill that included the "anti-rape" amendment introduced by Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.). The legislation was intended to address and prevent a recurrence of the assault and rape that Jamie Leigh Jones, a defense contractor for the company KBR, alleged was committed by her fellow employees. But the amendment became a subject of debate after the Department of Defense, Republicans in the Senate, and even the committee chairman, Sen. Dan Inouye (D-Hawaii) raised concerns that it would leave contractors over exposed to lawsuits.
The final product, in the end, proved remarkably strong. According to a Franken aide, the substance of the language "is unchanged." Under the amendment the government would not be able to do business with companies that deny court hearings for victims of either assault, false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress or negligent hiring practice. The controversial Title VII provision, which would allow victims of assault to sue the employers of the alleged perpetrator and not just the perpetrator himself or herself, remains in the bill. Meanwhile, the threshold at which companies will be subjected to the legislation is set at those who have contracts totaling $1 million or more.
All told, the legislation would affect all major and many minor contractors, forcing them to choose between allowing litigation for their employees or forfeiting the hundreds of millions in dollars that are doled out annually in contracts by the federal government.
The Franken amendment includes a national security waiver, meaning that the Department of Defense could circumvent the law if it is deemed dangerous to U.S. safety. But, for that to happen, the Secretary of Defense would have to "personally explain why the waiver was used to Congress and at that point make it public," the Franken aide explained.
"I came to Washington to stand up for folks like Jamie Leigh, and stand up to the powerful interests that too often silence their voices," Sen. Franken said in a statement. "I was gratified to see so many of my colleagues in Congress and so many national civil rights leaders join in this effort. The Jamie Leigh Jones amendment is on its way to becoming law thanks to their work, the work of Chairman Inouye, and the work of the White House. I'm pleased that together, we were able to find a solution that allows victims of assault and discrimination their rightful day in court."
The amendment was initially added to the defense appropriations bill on October 21, 2009 by a 68 to 30 vote. Despite wide support for the measure (and ridicule for the 30 Republicans who opposed it) both the Obama administration's Department of Defense and Chairman Inouye raised concerns while the legislation was being considered in conference committee. Attempts to strip it of the Title VII provision were met with public outcry, which a Senate source familiar with the negotiations says was partially responsible for its ultimate passage.
"The public support surprised a lot of senators and not just the chairman," said the source. "The White House was working with Franken's office to find language that would be enforceable... and I think by the time those talks began everyone was on board, including Chairman Inouye."