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Indiana lawmakers consider bill that would change court martial process for guardsmen

House Bill 1076 would take away the ability of Indiana National Guardsmen to ask for a court martial if they're accused of minor misconduct.

INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Senate convened Thursday to look at a handful of bills that have already passed in the House, but Senators decided not to bring those bills to the floor for discussion. 

At least one of the bills, House Bill 1076, is being closely watched by the American Legion of Indiana. Some of their members came prepared to speak against it on the Senate floor.

The proposed law would take away the ability of Indiana National Guardsmen to ask for a court martial — the military's version of a court trial — if they're accused of minor misconduct.

Right now, if a guard member is accused of a minor offense, like reporting late for duty, their commander decides if they're guilty and determines the punishment. Among the penalties are a fine, up to eight days confinement, or a week's extra duty.

If a guard member wants to fight that, they can and instead ask for a trial by court martial. A guilty verdict through that process carries more severe penalties. 

"No man or woman would demand a court martial without weighing the consequences, and that's why it's so important to keep that right intact," said Lisa Wilken with the American Legion of Indiana. 

Those who support the bill say it would conserve resources by not bogging down the system, reserving court martial trials for more serious alleged crimes. 

"The court martial is a big deal. It takes a lot of resources," said President Pro Tempore Sen. Roderic Bray. 

"We have asked the question, 'How many times has a National Guardsman or woman demanded a court martial?' and the answer was zero in testimony this week," Wilken explained. 

HB 1076 would also take away a commander's ability to punish a guard member with confinement.

Earlier this session, the Senate passed Senate Bill 279, which proposes the same measures. 

"They're wanting to say, 'OK, we won't put you in the brig for eight days, but you don't have the right to a court martial.' That's not right," said American Legion of Indiana member Kenny Cooper. "That's not a good trade off."

"Why take away a right that's been there for over 200 years?" Wilken asked. 

It's a right that would remain when a guard member is on active duty federally, just not while on active duty in Indiana.


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