Texas lawmakers keep working on veterans services

Posted Wednesday, Apr. 10, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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From the political noise, you might imagine that Texas lawmakers are mostly fighting about Medicaid or education funding or vouchers or even gambling this session.

But they're also getting some work done for Texans who've served in the armed forces.

It seems to be an ongoing task, requiring refinements to the law both large and small.

Bills have been filed to assist veterans in getting jobs, find low-interest loans and even in some cases pay their electric bills.

Among the most significant proposals is SB10, by Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, which among other things would require state agencies to include more veterans in their job-interview pools and would make it easier for veteran-owned businesses to compete for state contracts.

The bill would also expand the College Credit for Heroes program, which helps veterans translate their military experience into college credit.

Another Van De Putte bill, SB1158, would give the Texas Veterans Commission jurisdiction over the program that lets veterans or their children get free college tuition and fees. It is currently administered by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

One of the key ways of helping vets find work once they return to civilian life is to remove barriers that keep them from capitalizing on their service training. Several measures aim to do that.

For instance, both the House and Senate have approved bills that would waive residency requirements for service members who apply for a commercial driver's license. The measures (HB860 by Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, and SB229 by Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth) would enable veterans who've operated sophisticated military vehicles to quickly move into the transportation field.

More than 200,000 trucking jobs are unfilled, with 300,000 more expected to be created over the next decade, according to an analysis from the House Research Organization.

Measures have moved through the House and Senate that would direct the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation to let veterans use their military experience as credit toward licensing requirements for such occupations as electrician, plumber and air conditioning repair and would expedite applications for military spouses. The key will be getting one of the proposals to final passage.

Davis also is hoping Texas drivers will feel kindly toward veterans when they apply or renew their licenses. The Senate has approved her SB557, which would enable motorists to donate to the Texas Veterans Commission's Fund for Veteran Assistance, either at a Department of Public Safety office or at the DPS website. A similar option on vehicle registration forms has raised more than $600,000, a news release said.

Texas lottery players have added almost $27 million to the fund through the Veterans Cash scratch-off game, created by the Legislature in 2009. The money has helped fund counseling, transportation, housing assistance and other services for veterans and their families.

That's turned out to be a creative funding mechanism for worthwhile services. Unfortunately, companion bills by Turner and Davis to have $5 million in unclaimed lottery prize money dedicated to the veterans fund haven't gone anywhere.

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