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Friday, May 20, 2016

NOTES FROM THE SENATE, MAY 20, 2016

SUPPORT FOR MILITARY MEMBERS AND VETERANS STRONG IN 2016 SESSION

As a pro-military state, Georgia has a close relationship with active duty soldiers, reservists and guardsmen as well as with veterans. This relationship has been demonstrated in steadfast support for military bases around the state, especially in times where base evaluations were taking place. Every year, the Governor and General Assembly address issues facing military families and try to improve conditions for those on duty, for those leaving the service and for veterans.

The numbers of citizens who are directly or indirectly affiliated now or in retirement with the military in Georgia are significant, but exact numbers can be elusive. In Georgia, there are some 752,000 veterans who are served by the Department of Veterans Services. Numbers from 2013 show 72,617 Active Duty members assigned in the state and some 55,689 civilians working for the military. Add to this number 13,800 Army and Air National Guardsmen and another 560 civilian personnel. The unpaid State Defense Force totals just under 600. Reservists in the state are estimated to total about 13,000 in all branches.

So, these numbers point out that the military and veterans are an important constituency in Georgia and worthy of consideration in policies and other initiatives considered by the Legislature. Of course, these numbers don't include dependents of military members or veterans. But just using veterans, soldiers and civilians, the number exceeds 900,000. If there is only 1 family member per vet or military member, that's a total of over 1.5 million or 15% of the state's population.

Several pieces of legislation affected members of the military, National Guardsmen and veterans in an active year in the 2016 General Assembly:
HB 821 -Instructs boards for professions requiring licenses to establish regulations for recognizing licenses from other states or military training satisfying licensing requirements of military spouses of active, Reserve or National Guard soldiers who apply within 12 months of separation or 24 months of retirement.

HB 831-Clearly establishes re-employment rights for National Guardsmen living in Georgia but called to active duty in another state. Returning military member has ten days to act on the re-employment right.

HB 862-Clarifies the disability status of a veteran who is 100% disabled from a service related condition receiving a statutory award and with this status qualifies for an exemption from ad valorem taxes on automobiles and is eligible for the disabled veteran tag. Also addressed in SB 253.

HB 962-Establishes the resumption of disability or medical services to dependents of military members when deployment and departure was the reason services were discontinued if application is made within 6 months of return.

HB 991-Allows a soldier returning from a combat zone a 60-day grace period to pay local ad valorem taxes. Fees and interest are waived when the due date came while deployed under Presidential orders.

HB 1072-Existing service-cancelable loans for members of the Georgia National Guard will be given in addition to HOPE Scholarship eligibility. Members are limited to undergraduate degrees and 5 total years of repayment service. Tuition repayment cannot exceed that of the University of Georgia level.

SB 18-Instructs Technical College System to develop a policy granting academic credit for appropriate military training to returning veterans or active military.

SB 270-Prohibits a benefit being awarded based on an untrue claim of a military service award or misuse of military uniform. Can bring a charge of a high and aggravated misdemeanor.

FUNDING FOR EDUCATION AND TRAUMATIC INJURY TREATMENT HIGHLIGHT BUDGET INITIATIVES
$100,000-In Student Finance Commission to fund projected expenditures of Service Cancellable Loan Program for Georgia National Guard members. Tuition payment is now independent of eligibility for HOPE Scholarship by Guardsmen and women.

$100,000-Appropriated for the National Infantry Museum. Referred to in "Disregard" message by Governor. May be addressed in FY 2017 Amended Budget. FY 2016 Budget appropriated $500,000 to the Museum.

$50,000-Appropriated for the Georgia Defense Force to assist volunteer members with basic expenses like uniform purchases. If National Guard was mobilized and left the state entirely, the GA Defense Force would serve as the militia.

$730,000-Department of Defense-In bond package to match federal funds for facility sustainment and repair.

$200,000-In bonds for site improvements at readiness centers in multiple locations matching federal funds.

$3 million-In bonds for the Department of Veterans Services to fund renovations of Subacute Rehab Therapy Unit at the Georgia War Veterans Home in Milledgeville.

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