BIZZARRO: Senate Judiciary Moves Legislation to Establish Statewide Veterans Courts

HARRISBURG, Jan. 29 – State Rep. Ryan A. Bizzarro, D-Erie, announced that today the Senate Judiciary Committee moved legislation to establish statewide veterans’ courts.

Bizzarro, who has championed the establishment of veterans’ courts statewide for four legislative sessions, said he was thrilled to see the measure make progress in the Senate.

“We have an obligation to help veterans adjust to civilian life. Those who face challenges in doing so deserve the opportunity to have a system that takes into account the unique experiences they’ve encountered and take them into account,” explained Bizzarro.

Senate Bill 976, with nearly identical language to Bizzarro’s House Bill 541, would institute a specialized veterans’ court in any Pennsylvania county that does not have one. Any existing veterans’ court would be permitted to continue. The legislation also permits counties to create regional courts and to add a veteran’s track to existing problem-solving courts

Under the voluntary program, veterans struggling with addiction, mental illness or similar disorders who are charged with nonviolent crimes plead guilty to their charges. They then undergo rehabilitation and are monitored by specialized judges and probation officers. Participants may also work with volunteer veteran mentors. If a judge is satisfied with a participant’s rehabilitation, charges would be dropped.

Pennsylvania has the fifth-largest veteran population in the country, with nearly 1 million veterans, but only 18 of the state’s 67 counties, including Erie, have established veterans’ courts.

The bill now awaits Senate consideration.