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Budget bill fails to serve those who have served the state and country

The Senate Republicans’ veterans and military affairs budget proposal has been passed out of the Finance Committee.

The proposal has a $0 target and fails to adequately fund those who have served and continue to serve the state and country.

The bill includes no additional funding for operating budgets. The Department of Military Affairs (MDMA) receives no additional funding – the only new money in the bill is a $50,000 transfer from the general fund to the Support our Troops account for grants for individuals. The bill does nothing to provide for the requested funding restoration of the enlistment incentives program.

Funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs (MDVA) doesn’t get much better. The bill cancels a previous $350,000 grant to the Veterans Journey Home project and uses the money to instead fund a $100,000 upgrade to the Armed Forces Service Center at the MSP international airport and $150,000 for a Medal of Honor memorial on the Capitol grounds.

Multiple attempts to increase support for the state’s veterans and active military members were voted down in veterans committee.

Jon Jensen, Adjutant General of the Minnesota National Guard, wrote to the committee stating, “Our agency prides itself in our stewardship of state and federal resources. Our requests are fact-based and not extravagant by any means. Our service members are committed to operations around the world at an increasing rate, with over 650 soldiers and airmen currently deployed, over 200 recently returned, and over 1,500 more preparing for deployment next year.”

Work will begin again on the veterans and military affairs budget after break, with hopes that Republicans work towards a budget that truly supports the state’s veteran and active military members. (SF 2358)

Veterans memorial days

The Senate Veterans Committee have heard a number of bills so far this year that would create days that honor and bring awareness to the state’s veterans. Many of these days are included in the omnibus budget bill, including a Prisoner of War and Missing in Action (POW/MIA) Day, a Veterans Suicide Awareness Day, and an American Allies Day.

Not included, however, is a day that would memorialize Hmong veterans. Minnesota has one of the largest Hmong populations in the country, and Senate DFLers have brought forward a bill in the past that would establish a day to honor the sacrifices made by Hmong veterans. An amendment to add the day to the omnibus bill failed in committee, and it is uncertain whether establishing this day will make it into the final bill. (SF 2358)

Veterans and veterans’ spouses homestead tax exclusion

A number of veterans bills heard in committee this session would make changes to the state’s disabled veterans homestead tax exclusion.

The homestead valuation tax exclusion allows for all or a portion of the market value of a property owned by a veteran and serving as the veteran’s homestead to be excluded from determining the property’s taxable market value, if the veteran meets a disability threshold. For veterans that have a disability rating of at least 70%, $150,000 of the market value is excluded, and for veterans that have a disability rating of 100%, $300,000 of the market value is excluded. Veterans’ spouses may continue to receive the exclusion for up to 8 years after the death of the veteran.

A bill that would make the tax exclusion transferable to new properties if a spouse moves as well as a bill that would make the exclusion permanent for veterans’ spouses were both passed and sent to the Taxes Committee.

An additional bill that would make information sharing about veterans and veterans’ spouses who qualify between county veterans service officers and the county accessor easier also passed out of both the Veterans and Judiciary Committees and were sent to the Taxes Committee.

Whether any of the bills were included in the Senate tax bill won’t be known until the tax bill is released, which won’t happen before break. (SF 114, SF 113, SF 58)

Veterans Restorative Justice Act

Minnesota was one of the first states to do so when it established a veterans court in 2008. Veterans charged with crimes that are directly related to their military service are diverted to these specialty courts where they can avoid convictions if they successfully go through treatment. Since 2008, these courts have spread across the state, but due to a lack of statewide standards, veterans are often treated differently for the same crime based on which county’s court system they go through.

A working group put together by the Veterans Defense Project, a group that advocates for adequate legal representation for veterans and works to advance the rehabilitation system for veterans involved in the criminal justice system, introduced a bill this session in committee that would establish statewide standards so that veterans can expect the same treatment across the state.

The bill, known as the Veterans Restorative Justice Act, creates two paths for veterans charged with crimes depending on the seriousness of their offense – if their offense is due to PTSD, a traumatic brain injury, or mental health issues related to their service. Both paths focus on rehabilitation for the veteran that will allow the veteran to be fully restored to the community.

The bill passed out of the Veterans Committee but did not receive a hearing in the Judiciary Committee. The companion in the House has made it into the Ways and Means Committee. The fate of this bill this session remains uncertain. (SF 1153)

Veterans homes

The 2018 bonding bill included $32 million in bonds for three new veterans’ homes in Bemidji, Montevideo, and Preston. A resolution was passed out of the Veterans Committee this year that encourages the federal government to fully fund their share of the cost of building the new homes, but no other action has been taken. (SF 54)

Veterans hiring preference

A bill that requires veterans be given due consideration when applying for jobs at the Legislature and in the state courts system passed out of Veterans Committee early in session.

Veterans have a higher unemployment rate than the average population, and disabled veterans have a disproportionately higher unemployment rate than the average population.

The bill was passed out of the Veterans Committee and sent to State Government, but it is unlikely to move any further in the process this year. (SF 331)