Session Wrap-Up, Part 1
On May 27, Governor Perry signed my Senate Bill 163, which gives a 100% property tax exemption to Gold Star Spouses.
That mad dash that we call the Legislative Session is finally over - sort of. Only 30 minutes after Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst hit the final gavel, Governor Rick Perry called us back into a special session to deal with redistricting (and as of Monday, transportation as well).
But for now, let's look back at the regular session. This week, I'll review bills affecting veterans, military, and their families that I authored or sponsored that passed this session. In upcoming weeks, I'll look at bills on other issues.
San Antonio: #1 Military-Friendly City!
Earlier this month, the website militaryfriendly.com
told the world something we already knew: San Antonio is the most military-friendly city in the United States.
The website annually surveys cities for military-friendly employers and schools and veteran-owned businesses, plus factors like cost of living and unemployment rate, to produce rankings of the top 50 military friendly cities. In addition to San Antonio, Houston ranked No. 3 and Dallas No. 5.
Don't think for one second that these high rankings were just a happy accident. Nor is it simply a byproduct of having multiple military bases in the area.
No, this ranking came through a concerted effort by San Antonio's and Texas' military and veteran community, business leaders and elected officials. It happened because Texas makes "military-friendly" a goal.
We lawmakers take that goal seriously at the state Capitol. As Chair of Senate Veteran Affairs & Military Installations Committee, I keep watch over all bills affecting veterans, active military, and their families. During the just-completed 83rd legislative session, we passed several bills to make life easier for our warriors and families - too many to list them all here, but these are some highlights:
Occupational licenses - Enduring the wait to get licensed for a job for which one is already qualified simply frustrates military-trained veterans and spouses. I authored Senate Bill (SB) 162 (and worked on it with San Antonio Rep. Jos� Men�ndez, chair of the House Defense & Veterans' Affairs Committee) to create an expedited licensing process for military service members, spouses, and veterans within one year of separation from the military, in occupations that require state licensure. The bill also requires issuing a license to those who already hold substantially similar licenses from other jurisdictions; individuals will be expected to meet Texas' requirements when they renew their license. Governor Perry has already signed this bill into law and it is effective immediately.
Education - I was also proud to work with Rep. Men�ndez on SB 1158, which protects Hazlewood Legacy benefits. The Hazlewood Act guarantees a certain amount of exempted college tuition for Texas veterans; in 2009, I authored the Hazlewood Legacy Act, allowing unused benefits to be passed on to a veteran's spouse or children. SB 1158 creates a $250 million permanent endowment fund to help mitigate the costs of Hazlewood - with the increased number of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, I wanted to ensure these earned benefits continued to be sustainable. Among other provisions, the law also transfers authority over Hazlewood to the Texas Veterans Commission from the Higher Education Coordinating Board. As of this writing, SB 1158 awaits Governor Perry's signature. If he neither signs it nor vetoes it by Sunday, June 16, it will become law without his signature, but I am confident of the Governor's support.
Tax exemptions - My SB 163 creates a 100 percent homestead tax exemption for Gold Star Spouses (spouses of service members killed in action) and House Bill 97 (which I sponsored in the Senate) grants exemptions on homes donated by charitable organizations to disabled veterans (the amount of the exemption is tied to level of disability). After what Gold Star families and disabled veterans did for us, they shouldn't be burdened by taxes and threats of foreclosure. Governor Perry signed these bills, but final approval of the exemptions must come from Texas voters on November 5. I know my fellow Texans will want to join me at the ballot box to support our veterans.
I'm proud of these bills and of my colleagues for passing them. Texas earned its high military friendly rating, and we'll strive to keep it.
(Another bill that got signed this week that I'm excited about is House Bill 5 - not military related, but an important public education overhaul. More on that next week.)
Army Spc. Kyle P. Stoeckli, 21, of Moseley, Va., died June 1, in Maiwand, Afghanistan, from injuries sustained when his unit was attacked by an improvised explosive device. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 36th Infantry Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, Fort Bliss.
Army Pfc. Mariano M. Raymundo, 21, of Houston died June 1, in Sharan, Afghanistan. The incident is under investigation. He was assigned to the 210th Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, Fort Drum, N.Y.
Army Staff Sgt. Job M. Reigoux, 30, of Austin died June 1, in Ghazni Province, Afghanistan, of wounds sustained when insurgents attacked his unit with a rocket propelled grenade. He was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, Fort Stewart, Ga.