Veterans court bill gets green light from Senate committee

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A bill that would establish veterans courts in every judicial district has passed the Senate Judiciary Committee and been reassigned to the Appropriations Committee.

Senate Bill 547, authored by Republican Sens. Joe Zakas and Michael Crider, calls on the Indiana Judicial Center to establish a veterans court in each judicial district and provides two years of funding to get the courts launched.

The measure was unanimously approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Feb. 5.

Hamilton County is in the process of organizing a veterans court after the Hamilton County Council approved a $40,000 appropriation to start the new court on top of a $30,000 grant from the Glick Fund last week.

Now the new veterans court is seeking certification from the Indiana Judicial Center.

Hamilton Superior 3 Judge William Hughes, who will preside over the veterans court, said he is not familiar with the Senate bill. But these courts are important and the funding provision in the legislation will be helpful, he noted.

The veterans courts that have been established around the state have been started at the grassroots level with the counties determining the need and doing the necessary work, Hughes said. And that may be the best way for a veterans court to be set up rather than a top down approach, he continued.

Part of what makes veterans courts work, Hughes said, is the teamwork that happens at the county level.

Still, Hughes said he would be happy to work with the Legislature and judges in his districts to help determine the best way to serve veterans.

SB 547 requires the board of directors of the Judicial Conference of Indiana to adopt rules prescribing how courts and counties shall cooperate with one another concerning a veteran under the jurisdiction of a veterans court in a different county.

In addition, the bill appropriates $260,000 in each of the fiscal years for 2016 and 2017 especially for establishing veterans courts as well as for covering the costs of training and certification.

A fiscal analysis by the Indiana Legislative Services Agency found that while the administrative costs to the Indiana Judicial Center may increase, treatment and alternative sentencing of the veterans could lower the costs of incarceration.    

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