Our Opinion: Veterans courts advance as session closes

News Tribune editorial

Frenzied activity in the waning hours of a legislative session can yield both plums and lemons.

A proposal to establish veterans courts is worthy legislation approved by lawmakers and advanced to the governor before the session ended Friday.

Adding these specialty courts to the existing courts focused on drug and DWI offenders is good for military veterans and Missouri taxpayers.

Treatment courts, as they are referred to by the Office of State Courts Administrator, are designed for criminal offenders who have a treatable disorder — including drug addiction, alcoholism or post-traumatic stress disorder.

Treatment courts are not “get-out-of-jail-free” cards.

They require adherence and completion of rigorous, closely supervised programs designed to change behaviors and prevent future criminal activity.

State Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, sponsored a veterans court proposal last session and again this year.

He characterized it as “a way to help those who have served our country to get the help they need, to get their lives back on track.”

But it was not his version that was sent to Gov. Jay Nixon. The version that advanced was sponsored by military veterans and Sen. Will Kraus, R-Lee’s Summit, who called the measure “the right thing to do for our veterans who come back from combat with a mental illness that they didn’t want.”

“And,” he added, “if we treat that symptom, then they can be recovered, and we won’t have to put them in our prisons and cost our state dollars.”

Although Barnes deserves much of the credit, he graciously acknowledged his Senate colleague. “I don’t care who gets the credit,” Barnes said. “I’m just thrilled the bill got across the finish line.”

So are we.

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