The bill sponsored by Sen. Elizabeth Halseth, a Las Vegas Republican, would establish the crime of stolen valor and attach criminal punishments to misleading people about one’s military past — or lack thereof.
“It’s important we take steps to honor the sacrifices of Nevada’s heroes,” Halseth said Friday at a Senate committee hearing.
Under the measure, misleading someone about military service, with the intent to gain “something of value,” would be considered a misdemeanor. Forging documents or counterfeiting medals, ribbons and badges to support the story would be considered a gross misdemeanor. And lying about receiving the prestigious congressional Medal of Honor would be a low-level felony.
Proponents say lies about military service are a disgrace to people who have laid down life and limb in combat.
Opponents say that while the lies are offensive, they are also protected under the free speech clause of the Constitution unless they cause actual, demonstrable harm.
A similar federal law from 2005 was struck down this year in U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The court in California ruled it unconstitutional and compared it to criminalizing the white lies about height and weight that people publish on online dating profiles.
“Lying about awards does a disservice to our veterans,” said Rebecca Gasca of the ACLU. “But under our Constitution, we have to — we get to — put up with things that are distasteful.”
Lawmakers said the category “something of value” might be too broad and could be interpreted as something non-monetary. Gasca said it could include something as small as a free breakfast for veterans at Denny’s.
Vietnam veteran Daryl Capurro, who served in the U.S. Army, called military impersonation “an egregious act.” He disagreed that lying about the awards should be protected speech.
“I’d like to have someone tell that to the family of a person who was awarded” the Medal of Honor posthumously, Capurro said.
No action was taken Friday on the bill, which is co-sponsored by 21 other lawmakers. A nearly identical stolen valor bill, AB379, was working its way through the Assembly.