The last couple of weeks have been pretty packed with veterans issues, so that is a major theme in this email update!
Veterans Affairs Committee
We’ve heard a couple of specific bills in the Veterans Affairs Committee that sort of go beyond the normal scope of what people usually consider “veterans issues,” which is always exciting to see.
The first bill I’d like to mention is HF3167, which would encourage schools who teach character development as part of their curriculum to include Congressional Medal of Honor recipients as part of their character illustrations. It’s so important to give children role models, and the Medal of Honor has been awarded to so many people who are profound examples of character.
A second bill, HF 2342, would designate a portion of the Minnesota State Capitol grounds for a Medal of Honor recipient memorial. The Medal of Honor was established during the Civil War, and since then, approximately 47 have been awarded to Minnesotans, with a total of 3,497 recipients nation-wide. The memorial would be a great acknowledgment of this specific aspect of Minnesota’s long and proud history of service.
Veterans’ Day at the Capitol
On March 16th, local veterans’ groups from around the state gathered for Veterans’ Day on the Capitol to discuss veterans issues. At the rally, I spoke to the group of approximately 400 veterans, and encouraged more proactive involvement in the legislative process by the Military Action Group and other veterans advocacy groups. It’s so important to have veterans and their families testify for bills, and meet with their local legislators to talk about what issues impact them. No one who hasn’t been in the military, or had family members in service, can understand what that experience is like and what issues you encounter as a result. It was so encouraging to have so many veterans gather to make their voices heard, and I hope that this will continue throughout session!
Brother in Arms Reunited
Recently I had the honor of visiting El Ewert and Francis Laqua at Birchwood Nursing Home in Forest Lake. El and Francis had both moved into Birchwood for short-term physical rehabilitation, and were assigned each other as roommates. After talking about their service, they both realized that they had been in the same unit together in WWII! The two share a bond that not many have; being brothers in arms who literally fought alongside each other. During my visit with “The Boys,” I presented them with coins in recognition of their years of service, and a letter thanking them on behalf of the Minnesota State Legislature. I hope we can have El and Francis come to the Veterans’ Affairs Committee to hear their story, and present a resolution acknowledging their service.
They are quite a pair, and it was a true honor visiting with them.
National Council of State Legislatures Military and Veterans Affairs Task Force
Earlier this Month I was nominated to the National Council of State Legislatures Task Force on Military and Veterans Affairs. Throughout the year, NCLS gathers state legislators from around the country to discuss how their states are approaching different issues. I look forward to discussing the concerns of our service men and women, and hope to bring some good insight and new ideas back home to the Veterans Affairs committee.
School Transportation Sparsity Bill
As I’ve mentioned previously, another bill I am carrying this session is the transportation sparsity bill (HF2432). By way of a quick summary, currently the state provides a per-capita funding for students that is supposed to take transportation costs into account. However, this formula is often inadequate when a school district covers a large geographic area. This legislation would lighten the financial burden some school districts face by covering approximately 25-35% of the additional transportation costs not funded by the state. Currently the bill is waiting for a hearing in the Education Finance Committee. You can follow the bill’s progress at this link: https://www.revisor.mn.gov/bills/bill.php?b=House&f=HF2432&ssn=0&y=2015
One of the majors pieces of legislation we plan to pass this year is a comprehensive tax reform bill. Currently, we have a tax bill in conference committee being discussed by members of the House and Senate. Tax relief for middle class families is a top priority for our caucus. I am also pushing for the veterans’ benefits tax exemption to be included in the final bill.
I hope you all have a chance to enjoy time with your friends and family this holiday weekend. Spring is on its way, and our family celebrates Easter as a time of Christ's death and resurrection, a time of new and fresh beginnings. As always, thank you for the honor of being your state representative, and Happy Easter!