Veterans treatment court funding bill moving forward

KAILUA-KONA — Funding for Big Island Veterans Treatment Court is making headway in the state Legislature.

House Bill 1965 seeks $105,912 to continue the program by allowing the Judiciary to convert a temporary social worker position into a permanent position and establish an additional full-time social worker in fiscal year 2018-19.

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The money is needed after a three-year $300,000 federal grant that funded the court ended Sept. 30. Despite federal dollars running up and the state Legislature failing to pass funding for the program in 2017, the Judiciary has kept the specialized court alive in the 3rd Circuit.

Judiciary spokeswoman Jan Kagehiro said Friday that “while we have had to scale back the program, the Judiciary and our dedicated volunteer veteran mentors remain committed to keeping the program going.”

According to testimony from the Judiciary, BIVTC has worked with 26 veteran participants of which 10 have graduated since the program began in 2014. East and West Hawaii would each get one full-time probation officers to oversee a caseload of 20 veterans.

“Many of us either are veterans, know of veterans, and/or have family or loved ones who are veterans. Veterans have served our country and many have given their lives and sacrificed much. We all share the common goal to support them in their time of need and provide them with the best possible chance to be a healthy and successful part of our community,” 3rd Circuit Chief Judge Greg K. Nakamura wrote in testimony.

Veterans treatment courts offer a second chance for veterans charged with a misdemeanor or nonviolent felony. Those selected for the program have all served in the U.S. Armed Forces and have experienced difficulties acclimating back into society, according to the Judiciary’s website.

“The underlying cause for the incarceration of many of these veterans was often post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, a substance abuse disorder, or a combination of any of the three,” the bill reads.

The bill, co-introduced by all seven Big Island representatives, passed its first reading Jan. 22, and was referred to the committees on Veterans, Military and International Affairs and Culture and the Arts (VMI), Judiciary and Finance.

The VMI committee recommended passage of the bill, with amendments, and reported it to a second reading on the House floor, where it was passed on Feb. 5. The Judiciary committee took up the bill on Wednesday and recommended it be passed, with amendments.

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To keep moving forward, the bill must get a hearing before the Committee on Finance on or before Friday. If passed at that point, it would go for a third reading on the House floor on March 8 to enable it to crossover to the Senate.

A companion bill was also introduced in the state Senate. Senate Bill 2971 passed its first reading on Jan. 24 and was referred to three committees; however, it has yet to get a hearing. To remain alive, the measure must schedule its final committee hearing on or by Friday.

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