|Oregon State Bar Bulletin — APRIL 2010|
Oregon War Veterans Attorney Shares
Story of Bill's Two-year Journey into Law
By Melody Finnemore
SB 999: Allows district attorneys greater discretion in referring a member of the armed services, or a veteran, to a supervised performance program if the referral is in the interest of justice and of benefit to the member of the armed services, the veteran and the community.
Passage of Senate Bill 999 is the culmination of a two-year, collaborative effort that grew from a common desire to help U.S. servicemen and women returning home from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
According to Jesse Barton, associate legal counsel for the Oregon War Veterans Association (OWVA), the bill emerged from a discussion he and Greg Warnock, OWVA’s executive director, had during the fall of 2008 about what veterans’ issues to address during the 2009 legislative session.
“One item we decided to work on was legislation that would expand the authority of district attorneys and judges to divert from criminal prosecution service members charged with crimes,” Barton says.
State Sen. Chip Shields agreed to sponsor it as HB 3396, and the bill gained support from the Oregon Anti-Crime Alliance. However, the Oregon District Attorney’s Association (ODAA) had concerns about it. By the time a compromise bill was created, it was too late in the session to move it forward and HB 3396 died.
OWVA continued working on proposed legislation in partnership with the Oregon Anti-Crime Alliance, the Oregon District Attorneys Association, the Oregon Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, Oregon Partners in Crisis, Attorney General’s Sexual Assault Task Force and the Oregon Law Center.
“We finally put together a bill we all could agree on,” Barton says. “But, significantly, to maintain ODAA support, we had to agree to remove the provisions that would expand the authority of judges to divert from criminal prosecution service members charged with a crime. So the bill was limited to expanded DA diversion authority.”
In January 2010, the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee heard the bill and voted to sponsor it as a committee bill — SB 999 — during the February special session. The committee approved it unanimously and the bill went before the Senate Judiciary Committee where, after amendments were made to address concerns expressed by advocates of domestic violence victims, it passed 30-0 on the Senate floor.
SB 999 then traveled to the House Committee on Veterans Affairs & Emergency Services, where it passed unanimously. During its meeting, the committee heard testimony from Shane Hornbeck, an Iraq war veteran who has experienced some legal trouble since coming home, Barton says.
“On the House floor, the presiding officer announced from the speaker’s podium that Shane was present in the gallery. In a largely unprecedented move, the whole House rose and gave Shane a standing ovation,” Barton says. “It then passed the bill 55-2, with three members excused.”
The House speaker and the Senate president signed the bill on Feb. 24. The governor signed it into law March 4.
For more information about the new law, visit www.or.us/10ss1/measpdf/sb0900.dir/sb0999.en.pdf.