Bill gives vets guilty of crimes a break

  • Article by: MARK BRUNSWICK , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 15, 2011 - 4:53 PM

A bill in the Legislature would make it easier for veterans with a criminal history to get some state licenses if they have been honorably discharged from the military. The bill would count the honorable discharge as evidence of rehabilitation if the criminal offense occurred before the person was discharged.

At a committee hearing earlier this week, John Baker, a onetime U.S. Marine gunnery sergeant and now a lawyer working on veterans issues, said the need for the legislation could be found in the jobless rate for Iraq and Afghanistan combat veterans, which hovers around 15 percent.

"This next greatest generation ought to be the next generation of business and community leaders. It's up to us to help break down those barriers for those veterans coming back home," he told the House Judiciary Policy and Finance Committee. The bill would not apply to law enforcement licensing but to other state-required licenses such as real estate, chiropractic and trades. The honorable discharge wouldn't help a vet who is subsequently convicted of a felony or gross misdemeanor. The committee didn't vote on the measure, which was passed through for possible inclusion in a larger veterans bill.

There were few questions about the validity or the need of the bill, authored by Rep. Bruce Anderson, R-Buffalo Township, a retired member of the Minnesota Air National Guard. But one question did arise, even if was rhetorical: Should veterans be given special preferences in things such as state licenses, state jobs, micro loans or even in the criminal justice system?

"Why would you treat anyone differently?" asked Rep. John Lesch, DFL-St. Paul, who recently joined the Guard. "The fact is, I would certainly hope our veterans get treated differently, our soldiers get treated differently. We need to move in that direction."

The ability to secure a state license, said Anderson, is a key benefit for "these individuals who have suffered quite a bit for our country."

Mark Brunswick • 612-673-4434

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