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Omnibus veterans and military affairs bill heads to the governor after passing House

(House Photography file photo)
(House Photography file photo)

A late move to separate veterans and military affairs appropriations and policies from a larger omnibus package has been met with overwhelming support.

The House passed HF4468/SF4233* 121-1 Friday. The veterans and military affairs appropriations and policy changes were passed 64-0 by the Senate Thursday. Gov. Tim Walz action is up next.

The provisions had been part of a larger omnibus package that also included state government and transportation provisions.

“This bill is a result of dedication and bicameral, bipartisan compromise,” said Rep. Rob Ecklund (DFL-International Falls), who sponsors the bill with Sen. Andrew Lang (R-Olivia). “(The bill) represents that our system can work for our veterans and for the state of Minnesota. While this compromise legislation does not include some provisions and appropriations that could have made it a great bill. Members, this is a good bill and I’m proud of it, and proud to support it.”

The bill would appropriate $52.35 million in supplemental funding to the Department of Veterans Affairs in fiscal year 2023 for a variety of programs. The base appropriation is increased $4.09 million in fiscal year 2024 and following years.

It would also appropriate $2.2 million to the Department of Military Affairs, with $2 million going to the National Guard for enlistment incentives. The appropriation includes $200,000 to the Minnesota Navy League for support of the commissioning of the USS Minneapolis-St. Paul in Duluth later this year.

Among the veterans affairs appropriations are:

  • $24 million for service bonuses to post-9/11 veterans and Gold Star families;
  • $5.41 million for the Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans to establish permanent housing for veterans;
  • $1.71 million for engagement, outreach and support of temporary housing options for veterans;
  • $1.1 million for tenancy support and landlord engagement;
  • $830,000 for the Redwood Falls veterans cemetery;
  • $774,000 to upgrade the wastewater system for veterans campground on Big Marine Lake;
  • $500,000 for a Fisher House in Fargo for those receiving care at the Fargo VA medical center;
  • $450,000 for county veterans service office grants; and
  • $147,000 for veterans service organization grants.

“This compromise language is the result of two chairs from different political parties that decided to say, ‘The heck with politics. Let’s throw that away and let’s sit down and get this done,’” Ecklund said.

The bill includes a $10.33 million appropriation in fiscal year 2022 for the building of veterans’ homes in Bemidji, Montevideo and Preston, and adds a one-time appropriation of $16.54 million fiscal year 2023 for the projects.

“Chair Ecklund shared with me that his heart was in fixing the veterans’ homeless issues and I’m going to renew that commitment as well,” said Rep. Donald Raleigh (R-Circle Pines). “We need to make sure that our veterans are taken care of. This is a fantastic bill and, more importantly, this is an omnibus bill that is single subject and it falls within what I think this type of a bill should do.”

During his 16 years at the House, Rep. Bob Dettmer (R-Forest Lake) has been fighting to have the veterans’ bill stand alone.

“We did it,” Dettmer said to Ecklund. “Together, we’ve been able to get people to look at and give a priority to our veterans and bring a bill to the House Floor, just a single issue to serve our veterans’ population here in Minnesota. I hope this sets a precedent now for years to come.”

Ecklund said: “This is indeed a precedent-setting day and I echo Rep. Dettmer’s words that I hope that it stays that way. The veterans’ bill should never be a part of the political ping-pong that sometimes happens when you have to put that into some other omnibus bill.”

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