Senators advance veteran justice program

Nebraska would develop a justice program aimed specifically at the needs of the state’s veterans under a bill advanced from general file March 21.

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. A Judiciary Committee amendment, adopted 34-0, gutted the bill and replaced it with the contents of a proposal from Brewer considered this session to establish a veteran justice program.

Brewer said the program would not be a “free ride” for veterans to commit crimes, but simply would ensure that the criminal justice system acknowledges how a veteran’s service can lead to criminal behavior and attempt to address those issues.

Under the committee amendment, a veteran must be eligible for probation to participate in the veteran justice program, which would use deferred judgments. Violation of a protection order, domestic violence and driving under the influence offenses would not be categorically excluded.

A veteran would qualify if there is reason to believe that a condition from military service contributed to the offense and a presumption would be created that an eligible veteran would be allowed to participate. The presumption could be overcome only if a judge determines that allowing the veteran to participate would not reasonably ensure public safety.

Upon successful completion, a veteran would be entitled to request that the court dismiss the action without entry of judgment. Courts also would be required to consider veteran status as a mitigating factor at sentencing.

Omaha Sen. Justin Wayne, chairperson of the committee, said the bill essentially would put “probation on the front end” and allow veterans a chance to overcome their struggles if they commit crimes related to the lingering effects of their service.

“It’s easy to support a veteran on Veterans Day, it’s easy on Memorial Day to say we support those who serve our country,” Wayne said. “What’s hard is when they make a mistake that is directly tied to what we put them through.”

Kearney Sen. John Lowe expressed concern that the bill “goes way too far” and could apply to serious crimes. In addition, he said, if a judgment is not entered in a case, courts would lack important information if a veteran were to offend again.

Wayne said he would work on the bill with various stakeholders before the next round of debate.

Following adoption of the committee amendment, senators gave LB253 first-round approval on a 38-0 vote.

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