The Memorial Day holiday offers an official opportunity for all of us to express our appreciation to our fellow citizens and their families who volunteer for military service. My family and I enjoy attending numerous community events to recognize and celebrate this service and sacrifice and we look forward to visiting with many of you.
As a state, Wisconsin can take pride in the support and services we offer to our military servicemen and women, and their families. During the current legislative session, we have discussed the following proposals to further demonstrate our appreciation:
Senate Bill (SB) 45: This bill permits Wisconsin veterans to obtain a designation of “Veteran” or “Disabled Veteran” on their driver’s license or state ID card. The purpose of this bill is to provide veterans with a convenient way to prove their veteran status. Furthermore, this optional designator alleviates certain veterans from having to carry their discharge papers (DD-214) as their only proof of being a veteran. The DD-214 contains sensitive information which can lead to identity theft if misplaced or stolen. Currently, 44 other states permit this status or have legislation pending. As the author of this legislation, I had the pleasure of working with several veterans organizations, as well as the Department of Veterans Affairs in developing this proposal. This bill has passed both houses of the legislature and is waiting for the Governor’s signature.
SB 120: Currently, the Wisconsin Department of Military Affairs operates a military family relief fund in which certain military family members are eligible to receive financial aid. Unfortunately, service members themselves are not eligible for this aid under current law. This bill extends eligibility for military family financial aid to a service member who is a Wisconsin resident and is a member of the U.S. armed forces (including a reserve unit) or the Wisconsin National Guard. I voted for passage of this bill in committee and on the Senate floor.
SB 147: For taxable years after December 31, 2012, this bill creates a state tax exemption of all military income received from the federal government by an individual who is on active duty in the U.S. armed forces and who dies in a combat zone. The Federal Government offers a federal tax exemption under the same circumstance. I voted for passage of this bill in committee and it is currently waiting for a final vote in the Senate.
In addition to these individual bills, I am pleased to continue to advocate for several key veteran initiatives in the 2013-15 Biennial Budget as a member of the Joint Finance Committee (JFC).
First, the budget will provide funding for the Veterans Assistance Program. This program is dedicated to helping homeless veterans by providing them with the job training, education, counseling, and rehabilitative services they need to obtain steady employment, affordable housing, and the skills to sustain a productive lifestyle. The program also assists unemployed and underemployed veterans secure the education and training necessary to find work. Our investment in this program will help us provide good support to our veterans and maintain our focus of helping more of our citizens to become employed.
The proposed budget also allocates a $5.3 million investment to the Veterans Trust Fund (VTF) for 2013-14. The VTF operates state veterans homes, veterans cemeteries, and the veterans museum in Madison. More importantly, it funds service programs such as home loans, education grants, and medical assistance to our service men and women and their families. Included in the effort to provide this funding is a requirement that the Board of Veterans Affairs provide recommendations to the Legislature on adopting a viable long-term funding source for the Veterans Trust Fund.
Finally, the necessary state funding to ensure that the Military Funeral Honors Program (MFHP) doesn’t run out of money before the end of the current budget cycle.
Even during tough budget times, priorities can be set. I am pleased that the Finance Committee, on behalf of the grateful citizens of our state, supported these important initiatives so that Wisconsin can continue our long tradition of thanking our military service men and women for their commitment to our nation and our security by providing good programs and quality services when they return home to their families.
If you are a veteran or know a veteran, you can learn more about the various programs and services we offer by linking to an informative benefits guide from the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs at: http://dva.state.wi.us/. Look under the benefits tab for complete information.
While these efforts are appropriate, our appreciation for military service can be demonstrated each day by living lives as free and liberated Americans. As always, it has been a pleasure communicating with you. Please remember to communicate with me and share your input by calling 888-295-8750, writing to me at P.O. Box 7882, Madison, WI 53707-7882, or by e-mailing me at Sen.Leibham@legis.wi.gov. You can also log on to the 9th Senate District on-line office at www.leibhamsenate.com.
It is an honor to work for and represent the residents of the 9th District in the State Senate.
~ Issue Corner ~
Issue Corner: Senate Bill 185
SB 185 eliminates the age and disability requirements for using a crossbow. The same game animals may be hunted under the newly established crossbow hunting license that can currently be hunted with an archery license. Furthermore, the bill permits the holder of an archer hunting license to obtain a crossbow hunting license at a reduced fee. SB 185 also requires the applicant of the crossbow license to complete a course of instruction in hunter education or bow hunter education.