VETERANS LEGISLATION – MONTHLY UPDATE
June 8, 2011
The Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs (WDVA) provides the Veterans Legislation Monthly Update to notify veterans advocates on relevant legislative developments relating to Wisconsin veterans.
STATE BUDGET UPDATE:
- Budget Status – The Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee (JFC) completed executive action on the Governor’s 2011-13 State Budget on Saturday, June 4. Now that JFC has finished its work, the budget has been forwarded to the full Assembly and Senate for their consideration. From there, the budget will be sent to the Governor, where vetoes or partial vetoes may be introduced. Pending a delay, the budget is set to take effect on July 1.
- JFC made several important changes relating to veterans programs, including:
- Restoration of Wisconsin GI Bill – JFC approved motion #489, which adopts the Governor’s recommendation to fully restore access to the Wisconsin GI Bill for Post-9/11 veterans. Furthermore, the motion implements several additional clarifications to enhance access to the Wisconsin GI Bill, including a provision to ensure that the Board of Regents remits the full amount of tuition and fees charged for any degree credit course, including online and distance learning courses (see items #19 and #20 in the motion).
- Wisconsin GI Bill at UW-Madison – JFC approved motion #489, which deletes the Governor’s recommendation to create a separate University of Wisconsin-Madison authority (see item #1 in the motion). Accordingly, this motion removes the provision that would have eliminated the Wisconsin GI Bill at UW-Madison as of July 1, 2013, or under a resolution adopted by the Board of Trustees.
- Increased Budget for Veterans Property Tax Credit – The Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) reestimated the costs to support the Veterans Property Tax Credit for the 2011-2013 biennium. They anticipate that the state will need to budget $9.7 million more than delineated in the Governor’s budget recommendations. LFB explains that the higher costs are due to increased awareness of the program as well as projected increases in property taxes. Accordingly, JFC increased expenditure authority for the program by an additional $9.7 million, expanding the total program budget to $39 million over the biennium. For more info, see LFB’s Budget Paper #313.
- $5 Million GPR Provided to Trust Fund – JFC unanimously approved a motion to allocate $5 million in general purpose revenue to the Veterans Trust Fund. Recent budget projections from WDVA and LFB indicated that the Veterans Trust Fund would experience a $3.7 million shortfall before the end of the 2011-13 biennium without legislative authorization. Provided the provision passes in the final version of the budget, this would be the first infusion of GPR dollars into the Trust Fund since 1988. The motion also requires that WDVA provide recommendations to the Legislature on adopting a viable long-term funding source for the Veterans Trust Fund by June 30, 2012. For more info, see “Finance Committee Provides Cash Infusion to Veterans Trust Fund.”
- Exemption from the Nursing Home Bed Assessment (Bed Tax) – JFC unanimously voted to continue the exemption from payment of the bed assessment for the Wisconsin Veterans Homes. If the exemption were to be discontinued, private pay rates for members of the Homes would increase by $2,200 annually.
- Cost-Benefit Analysis Requirement Restored for Chippewa Falls – JFC unanimously adopted a motion to require the Department of Administration (DOA) to conduct a cost-benefit analysis for the purpose of identifying the most appropriate business model for the future operation of the Chippewa Falls Veterans Home. The motion requires DOA to submit the results by February 1, 2012, or before WDVA enters into a contract, whichever occurs first. The motion also requires that if the Department contracts out, the contract contain a performance guarantee that states that the Home shall maintain an overall star rating at least equal to four stars.
JFC did not take action to provide at least one position authority required by federal law as a condition precedent to receiving federal funds.
- Funding for Military Funeral Honors Stipends – JFC unanimously voted to provide $68,900 GPR to ensure the availability of stipends for veterans service organizations for the remainder of the fiscal year.
- Contact Your State Legislators – Contact your State Legislators;
STATE VETERANS LEGISLATION:
- Legislature Passes Assembly Bill 96 and Senate Bill 97 (Appointment of WDVA Secretary; WDVA Board Composition and Powers) – On June 8, both the Assembly and the Senate passed AB 96 / SB 97, which gives the Governor the authority to appoint the WDVA Secretary and alters the composition and powers of the WDVA Board. The Assembly passed AB 96 on a vote of 59 to 37 and the Senate passed SB 97 on a vote of 21 to 12. The bill will now be sent to the Governor for his signature.
On May 19, Senator Joe Leibham officially introduced Senate Bill 97, which is identical to the amended version of AB 96 under Assembly Substitute Amendment 1. On May 23, SB 97 received a public hearing before the Senate Committee on Economic Development and Veterans & Military Affairs. On May 31, the Senate Committee held an executive session and passed the bill on a vote of 5 to 2. For more information on the public hearing and executive session, see the Record of Committee Proceedings for SB 97.
Under this bill, the Governor would appoint the WDVA Secretary, not the WDVA Board. Before appointing the Secretary, the Governor must consult with the presiding officers of at least six Wisconsin veterans organizations. Also, the proposal transfers the direction and supervision of the Department from the Board to the Secretary. Relating to the composition of the Board, this proposal expands the Board to nine members, one from each of Wisconsin’s eight congressional districts and one serving at large. Finally, the proposal stipulates that all Board members must have served on active duty, but need not have served in any particular war or conflict.
- Governor Appoints and Senate Confirms New Board Members – On June 8, the State Senate approved the Governor’s appointment of Ben Collins, Al Richards, John Gaedke, and John Townsend to the WDVA Board. The Senate Committee on Economic Development and Veterans & Military Affairs approved the four nominees in an executive session on June 7: see the record of committee proceedings on Ben Collins, Al Richards, John Gaedke, and John Townsend.
- Property Tax Credit Expansion to Surviving Spouses (SB 84 / AB 121) – On May 5, Representative Kevin Petersen introduced Assembly Bill 121, the Assembly companion to Senate Bill 84, which expands eligibility to the veterans property tax credit to surviving, unremarried spouses of veterans who died from a service-related disability and were eligible for federal Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC). AB 121 has been referred to the Assembly Committee on Veterans and Military Affairs. SB 84 is awaiting action before the Senate Committee on Economic Development and Veterans & Military Affairs.
- Track State Veterans Legislation – You can visit WDVA’s State Veterans Legislation – Key Bills webpage to track developments and gather additional information on state veterans legislation. Also, you can sign up for the Wisconsin Legislative Notification Service toreceive automatic email alerts relating to legislative action on specific bills, committees, legislators and subject areas.
- Contact Your State Legislators – Contact your State Legislators
FEDERAL VETERANS LEGISLATION
- Senate Veterans Committee Chair Introduces “Hiring Heroes Act of 2011” (S. 951) – The Chair of the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, Senator Patty Murray, introduced the Hiring Heroes Act of 2011 (S. 951) on May 11. The bill would implement a variety of practices to increase employment opportunities for veterans, including:
1. Requiring preseparation job counseling to members whose discharge or release is anticipated;
2. Instructing the VA Secretary and the Secretary of Labor to follow-up on the employment status of certain veterans;
3. The provision of additional VA rehabilitation programs for certain veterans with service-connected disabilities; and
4. The provision of VA grants to nonprofit organizations under a collaborative veterans' training, mentoring, and placement program for eligible veterans seeking employment.
For more details, see the Congressional Research Service summary of S. 951. An estimate of the fiscal impact of the legislation has not yet been generated by the Congressional Budget Office. The bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, and similar legislation has been introduced in the House (HR 1941).
- Federal VA Response on the Interaction of the Post-9/11 GI Bill and the Wisconsin GI Bill – As reported previously, a section of the Post-9/11 GI Bill Improvements Act of 2010 (S. 3447, now Public Law 111-377) could create a direct conflict between the Post-9/11 GI Bill and the Wisconsin GI Bill as to which program is the payer of last resort.
After sending a letter to the federal VA and garnering unanimous support from the Wisconsin Congressional Delegation in ajoint letter, on April 26, WDVA received a response from the VA General Counsel stating that the VA does not intend to compel use of the Wisconsin GI Bill prior to use of the Post-9/11 GI Bill (i.e. the Wisconsin GI Bill will maintain its place as the payer of last resort). While the response does not state what the intended rules look like and how the VA will interpret them, this is a positive statement of intent, and the Department is encouraged that this reiteration of the VA’s intentions sets a standard and implicates a future policy that will be favorable for Wisconsin veterans. Accordingly, the Department is thankful to the VA and the Wisconsin Congressional Delegation for their special attention to this matter, and WDVA looks forward to continuing its work with its federal partners to ensure that the final language treats Wisconsin veterans fairly.
- Track Federal Veterans Legislation – You can visit WDVA’s Federal Veterans Legislation – Key Bills webpage to track developments and gather more information on federal legislation specific to Wisconsin veterans.
- Contact Your Federal Legislators – Contact your Federal Lawmakers
For additional updates and information on the veterans budget and veterans legislation, visit www.WisVets.com/Legislation. Otherwise please don’t hesitate to contact our office if you have any questions.
Thanks for your commitment to better serve our veterans,
Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs