Veteran justice program created

Lawmakers approved creation of a justice program aimed specifically at the needs of the state’s veterans under a bill passed April 11.

Sen. Tom Brewer
Sen. Tom Brewer

As introduced last session by Gordon Sen. Tom Brewer, LB253 would have created a second law enforcement academy in western Nebraska. The bill was gutted this session and replaced with a proposal to establish a veteran justice program.

The program, to be created by the state probation administrator, will be available to active-duty military personnel and veterans. It will allow an individual who has committed a qualifying offense to request that a court defer entry of judgment of conviction pending completion of a case plan.

The program will be available in every district and county court and will apply to crimes committed after July 1, 2025. The program is prohibited from interfering with the operation of any existing problem-solving court.

A veteran will be eligible to participate if they can demonstrate that a condition from military service contributed to a qualifying offense. Offenses that will exclude participation in the program include those that are not probation eligible, registerable sex offenses, a third or subsequent charge of driving under the influence or an offense that results in the death of another person.

The program requires evidence-based treatment tailored to challenges arising from military service, including PTSD and traumatic brain injury. Case plans must be developed with experts and include input from the veteran. A risk assessment must include the risk of intimate partner violence regardless of the offense.

Any documents submitted by a veteran related to a program eligibility determination are not subject to public disclosure. If a veteran is determined eligible, the court is required to notify the victim of the alleged offense.

Among other provisions, the bill also requires courts to recognize veteran status as a mitigating factor in determining sentencing and training for law enforcement, court and correctional personnel to increase their understanding of cases involving veterans.

The state court administrator is required to track outcomes for veterans who participate in the program, including completion status, recidivism, housing and employment status. An annual report will be submitted to the Judiciary Committee.

LB253 passed on a 44-0 vote.

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