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Veterans court plan debated

CARSON CITY — A legislative panel heard mixed testimony Wednesday on a plan to set up a specialized court for military veterans struggling to readjust to civilian life.

Assembly Bill 187, proposed by Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, would authorize a court that would handle cases of veterans charged with nonviolent crimes and who suffer from mental or substance abuse problems stemming from their military service.

Under the plan, reviewed by the Assembly Judiciary Committee, such veterans could go through a treatment program and, if they complete it, have their criminal file sealed.

Endorsing the plan was Hank Pirowski, project director for a veterans court in Buffalo, N.Y., that served as a model for Buckley’s proposal. Pirowski, a Vietnam veteran, spoke by telephone, describing how his court has helped veterans to work their way through problems with the law.

While most of the testimony on AB187 was in support of Buckley’s plan, Lee Rowland of the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada said she opposes the bill because it creates a separate class of people charged with crimes based on their status as veterans.

Rowland said she supports specialty courts that help people with mental or substance abuse problems and agreed that veterans do not always get services they deserve.

But she said her concern, was “an automatic free pass based on military status to certain criminal defense rights that others don’t have. We do think that presents a problem.”

Nancy Hart of the Nevada Network Against Domestic Violence said she had concerns about the measure and suggested a revision to ensure that anyone charged with domestic violence could not be diverted to the veterans court.

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