SAINT PAUL – Rep. Rob Ecklund (DFL – International Falls), chair of the House Veterans and Military Affairs Division, issued the following statement regarding the Veterans Restorative Justice Act:
“Today, we had the opportunity to come together – as Democrats and Republicans – to help our military veterans, who have admirably served our country, but who have made mistakes during rough patches after returning home. Often, these mistakes can be directly tied to trauma they experienced during their service. The Veterans Restorative Justice Act would help change this. The bill would create alternative sentencing options for veterans who commit crimes under a certain severity threshold with service-connected trauma, substance abuse, or mental health conditions.
“The advocates who worked on this bill made it clear: they want us to pass a clean bill, and I feel that’s what we owe them. But in preparation for us to consider the legislation on the House Floor today, Republicans prepared numerous amendments in an effort to stop the bill, despite many months of bipartisan consensus. Only one thing appears to have changed: we are now less than three weeks away from a general election.
“Because House Republicans have decided they didn’t want to pass this legislation in a clean form today, more veterans will continue to be stuck in the criminal justice system, which often leads to experiencing hopelessness and dead ends, rather than getting the help they count on to turn their lives around. Our veterans don’t deserve this, and neither do the veterans organizations who have worked so hard on this important bill.
“Serving in the United States Marine Corps was one of the greatest honors of my life. I’m proud of my service, and when I joined the Legislature, I did so with the commitment to strengthen opportunities for other Minnesotans who’ve put on the uniform. I want to give my heartfelt thanks to the VFW, the American Legion, the Commanders Task Force, the Disabled American Veterans, the Minnesota Social Services Association, and other organizations for all their dedicated advocacy, as well as those in the legal community – prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges – for their support. This isn’t the end of the conversation, and to those advocates: you have my commitment that we will never let up until this bill becomes law.”