A Nevada Senate panel voted unanimously Monday for an Assembly-approved plan that would set up a specialized court for military veterans charged with nonviolent crimes while struggling to readjust to civilian life.
With the Senate Judiciary Committee approval, AB187 now moves to the full Senate for a final legislative test.
Advocates of AB187, proposed by Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, said it would help veterans charged with crimes and who suffer from mental or substance abuse problems stemming from their military service.
Under the plan, such veterans could go through a treatment program and, if they complete the program, have their criminal files sealed. In earlier testimony, Buckley said the bill was the least that could be done for veterans who risk their lives to protect the nation.
The bill, modeled after a veterans' court in Buffalo, N.Y., the first of its sort in the nation, was backed by veterans' organizations but faced initial criticism for creating a justice system specifically for veterans that isn't open to others.
A change to the bill included a preamble that lists "limited circumstances" for program eligibility, said Judiciary Chairman Terry Care, D-Las Vegas, adding, "This indicates this won't be the broadly used court some people think it might be."
Another purpose of the preamble is to prevent the perception that all veterans develop serious problems after serving their assignments, Care said.
"We don't want to foster the stereotype that all veterans are somehow maladjusted when they return to the civilian world," Care said, noting several of the panel members are veterans themselves.
Another amendment would let successful program participants apply immediately to seal court records, instead of going through a three-year wait proposed in the original bill. That change mirrors pending legislation dealing with defendants in drug and mental health courts.
Former Washoe County District Judge Peter Breen previously told lawmakers that sealed records and avoiding prison would account for a large part of veteran participation in the proposed program.
If approved, the proposed veterans courts would be optional for any jurisdiction that wants to create one.