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Still a work in progress, omnibus veterans and military affairs bill approved by committee

Maj. Gen. Shawn Manke, adjutant general of the Minnesota National Guard, testifies before the House Veterans and Military Affairs Finance and Policy Committee March 27 in support of HF 1937, the panel’s omnibus finance bill. (Photo by Catherine Davis)
Maj. Gen. Shawn Manke, adjutant general of the Minnesota National Guard, testifies before the House Veterans and Military Affairs Finance and Policy Committee March 27 in support of HF 1937, the panel’s omnibus finance bill. (Photo by Catherine Davis)

Although the omnibus veterans and military affairs finance bill was approved by its committee of origin Monday, HF1937 remains a work in progress.

After adopting a delete-all amendment, the House Veterans and Military Affairs Finance and Policy Committee approved the bill without opposition, during what Newton said will be its final meeting this session. It was referred to the House Ways and Means Committee.

The bill would appropriate $367.65 million from the General Fund during the upcoming biennium. The Department of Veterans Affairs would receive $294.33 million and the Department of Military Affairs would receive $73.3 million.

But Rep. Jerry Newton (DFL-Coon Rapids), the bill sponsor and committee chair, said discussions with Gov. Tim Walz and the agencies are ongoing, though the sides are “really close” to an agreement, and the bill would be further amended, likely during a ways and means committee hearing either just before or just after the upcoming spring break.

House panel approves omnibus veterans, military affairs finance bill 3/27/23

“There are some changes that are going to be made and I’ll make sure that everyone on both sides of the aisle is fully aware of what we’re doing so that you have a chance if you want to make any other changes,” he said.

[MORE: See the detailed spreadsheet]

In the bill’s current form, the VA’s appropriation would be designated for two main categories: $189.58 million for veterans health care and $104.74 million for veterans programs and services.

The bulk of the health care spending, $187.88 million, would be devoted to the operation of the state’s veterans homes including funding and startup costs for three homes under construction in Bemidji, Montevideo and Preston that are due to open later this year.

Some of the major programs and services appropriations include:

  • $22 million for service bonuses to post-9/11 veterans and Gold Star families;
  • $17.7 million for design and construction of the Minnesota Military Museum at Camp Ripley;
  • $7.8 million for veterans cemeteries, including $4.5 million in fiscal year 2024 to build and equip a new cemetery in Redwood Falls;
  • $5.62 million for the veterans homelessness initiative;
  • $4.53 million for the Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans to help veterans and their families who are homeless or in danger of experiencing homelessness;
  • $1.9 million for the Counseling and Case Management Outreach Referral and Education program; and
  • $1.54 million for the Homeless Veteran and SOAR program to operate the homeless veterans registry and homeless assistance programs.

The bill would also prohibit burial fees in state veterans cemeteries, not only for veterans but also their spouses and dependents.

The $73.3 million appropriation to the Department of Military Affairs would go to three main categories:

  • $26.83 million for general support;
  • $25.88 million for enlistment incentives; and
  • $20.01 million for maintenance of training facilities.

Among the general support projects that would be funded are a new “Cyber Coordination Cell” in the Minnesota National Guard that would receive $648,000 during the upcoming biennium, then base funding of $337,000 in fiscal year 2026 and $345,000 thereafter. The cell would help the guard work more closely with law enforcement and other civilian agencies in countering cyber threats.

The guard would also receive $843,000 during the biennium to begin and operate a Holistic Health and Fitness Program for its members. The “H2F” program would continue a U.S. Army program that aims to optimize soldier readiness with a focus on physical, mental, sleep, spiritual and nutritional health.

Not currently included in the bill is an Army Combat Fitness Test Field House that would be built at a training site in Arden Hills and could be used by soldiers to train for the tests they must pass to maintain physical readiness.

Newton said the $17.6 million appropriation was requested “at the last minute” by the governor and he has agreed to include it while rejecting another proposal the administration would like to add.

Rep. Mark Wiens (R-Lake Elmo) said he supports the project and funds that help soldiers maintain fitness is “money well spent.”


What’s in the bill?

The following are selected bills that have been incorporated in part or in whole into the omnibus veterans and military affairs finance bill:

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