December 16, 2020

Following Hirono and Ernst Advocacy, Bipartisan, Bicameral Legislation to Permanently Establish Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative Act in Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division Passes Senate, Heads to President

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senators Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii) and Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), and Representatives Veronica Escobar (D-Texas) and Van Taylor (R-Texas), announced that their bipartisan, bicameral legislation to permanently establish the Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative (SVI) inside the Justice Department (DOJ)’s Civil Rights Division passed the Senate, sending the bill to the President.

The Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative Act of 2020, ensures that the SVI, which started as an independent DOJ initiative in 2015, remains a permanent part of the Justice Department. Since 2015, the SVI has coordinated and expanded DOJ’s work to enforce statutes created to protect the legal interests and rights of servicemembers and their families. Senator Hirono and Senator Ernst’s legislation updates and formalizes the SVI’s mandate. Their bill mandates that the SVI will advise the Attorney General on legal and policy matters related to federal laws that protect servicemembers and veterans, serve as the liaison between DOJ and military departments, and serve as a liaison within DOJ to coordinate prosecution of fraud that targets servicemembers and their families. In 2018, the SVI helped inform DOJ’s settlement with the City and County of Honolulu and its contracted towing company for illegally auctioning cars owned by servicemembers on deployment.

“The Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative has provided critical support for servicemembers and veterans over the last five years. This bipartisan legislation makes sure that the Department of Justice has the tools and direction to remain focused on supporting servicemembers, veterans, and their families. As a member of both the Senate Armed Services and Veterans’ Affairs Committees, I am proud to have worked with this bipartisan group to pass this legislation, and urge that it be swiftly signed into law,” Senator Hirono said.

“As a combat veteran, caring for our servicemembers, veterans, and military families is one of my top priorities. That’s why I’ve helped lead this bipartisan effort to ensure the Department of Justice continues their work to protect the rights and legal interests of our nation’s heroes during and long after their military careers. I’m glad this important legislation passed the Senate this week, and is now one step closer to being signed into law,” said Senator Ernst.

“Our servicemembers and veterans have served our country and defended the freedoms we enjoy each day and we must do everything to meet their needs and protect them and their families from abuses such as fraud and predatory lending,” said Congresswoman Escobar. “My Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative Act of 2020 upholds this moral responsibility by permanently establishing the Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative within the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, and I am proud to see this bipartisan legislation clear the final step on its way to becoming law. I am grateful to Senators Hirono and Ernst and Congressman Taylor for their commitment to our heroes and cooperation on this crucial piece of legislation.”

Senator Hirono originally introduced the Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative Act of 2020 in November, and worked with her House counterparts and Senator Ernst to file the updated, bipartisan version of the bill (S. 5010) on December 10, 2020. The U.S. House of Representatives passed the identical bill introduced by Reps. Escobar and Taylor (H.R. 8354) on a 400-1 vote on December 8. Senators Hirono and Ernst worked with their Senate colleagues to pass the bill unanimously, sending it to the President to be signed into law.

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