Veterans Legislation Highlights 2011-2017

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

The words above concluded the second inaugural address given by Abraham Lincoln in 1865 near the end of the Civil War. He found himself on the verge of having to reunite a nation torn apart by a conflict that pitted brother against brother. Our military and the wars they fight have changed a lot since his message was first delivered. However, Lincoln’s call to action – to care for service members and their families – is just as timely today as it was then.

Since first being elected to the Assembly in 2010, I have worked with my colleagues to ensure we help the men and women of our Armed Forces as they serve and transition back into civilian life. Below are some of the legislative highlights from the past few years.

2017

SB 27 (Author) – Welcome Home Act

A reintroduction of SB 1155 from the 2015/16 legislative session, this measure removes a barrier for veterans seeking work in California and encourages immediate entrance into the civilian workforce by waiving the application and initial license fees paid to the state in order to receive an occupational license. This policy shift will help veterans as they apply for jobs. It can also be a tool in alleviating the crisis of veteran homelessness. Similar programs have been recently enacted in Wisconsin, Florida, and Texas.

SB 1249 – Veterans Halls Tax Protection

Allows Veterans Halls to be tax exempt, even if they rent out their property at a fee. Under current statute, renting out a Veterans Hall for a fee would remove part of their tax exempt status. These uses include renting out their hall for social gatherings, wedding receptions, etc. Most Veterans Halls operate at a deficit and rely on these functions to keep their doors open to veterans. This bill would close the loophole in tax law and allow Veterans Halls to keep their property tax exemption regardless of their use of the property.

AB 70 (Co-author) – Californians for Soldiers Act

In the fall of 2016, the federal government wrongfully ordered as many as 10,000 California National Guardsmen to repay contractually promised cash bonuses after audits revealed widespread overpayments. While Congress considers its own remedies, AB 70 would take the additional step of providing relief to affected soldiers and their families by requiring the state to assume financial liability for any payment required by the federal government.

AB 986 (Co-author) - Reduced Fishing & Hunting License Fees

Enables veterans to more easily participate in hunting and sport fishing in California. Honorably discharged veterans would be able to purchase hunting licenses and sport fishing licenses at a 25% discount. Disabled veterans and recovering service members would be eligible to receive sport fishing licenses at a 50% discount.

2016

SB 1155 (Author) – Welcome Home Act

Removes a barrier for veterans seeking work in California and encourages immediate entrance into the civilian workforce by waiving the application and initial license fees paid to the state in order to receive an occupational license. This policy shift will help veterans as they apply for jobs. It can also be a tool in alleviating the crisis of veteran homelessness. Similar programs have been recently enacted in Wisconsin, Florida, and Texas.

SB 1081 (Author) – Reduced Fishing & Hunting License Fees

Enables veterans to more easily participate in sport fishing and hunting in California. All honorably discharged veterans would be able to purchase sport fishing licenses and hunting licenses for a flat fee of $5 and would be eligible to obtain fishing report cards and hunting tags at a 50% discount. Disabled veterans and recovering service members would be eligible to receive licenses, report cards, and tags free-of-charge.

SB 1080 (Author) – Protecting Memorials & Gravesites

Holds individuals who vandalize the gravesites or memorials of veterans or first responders to greater accountability for their crimes. This bill would enhance legal penalties for actions such as defacing or stealing items left in memory of loved ones who served in the military including, among many things, honorary American flags and grave markers.

2015

SB 418 (Author) – Helping Veterans Complete their College Degrees

Would extend the length of approved absence in catalog rights for students performing active military service so that they can continue to serve our country and pursue their education. Please join me in authoring this important piece of veterans legislation. Catalog rights are the rights of students, who are continuously enrolled, to graduate under the requirements of the course catalog in effect when they first began their studies. By passing this legislation, many active duty students would not have to complete additional courses if they were not included in the course catalog when they began their degree.

SB 111 (Co-author) – Funding for Schools near Military Bases

California has 11 schools in 6 school districts on the Secretary of Defense Priority List that qualify for Public Schools on Military Installations (PSMI) Grant Program.  This Department of Defense program is used for the renovation, repair or reconstruction of schools facilities located near military bases that serve military families. The majority of these eligible California schools cannot raise the necessary funds to fund the 20 percent match required to access the funding due to the difficulty raising bond funds in areas with low assessed property valuations. SB 111 would provide as much as $6 million in state resources to secure up to $240 million from the Department of Defense.

A related measure, SB 121, would allow the State Allocation Board to provide the 20 percent match to these schools.

AB 171 (Co-author) – Predictable Funding for County Veterans Service Officers

Would make permanent the recent $3 million state funding augmentation to County Veterans Service Officers (CVSOs). The total amount appropriated by the state budget to CVSOs would be $5.6 million. CVSOs are located in almost every county in California. Their role is to match veterans with federal benefits.

2014

AB 13 (Supported) – In-State Tuition for G.I. Bill Veterans

Requires the California State University and California Community College systems – and requests the University of California – to grant in-state tuition for all students using the G.I. Bill.  If Senate Republicans had not fought to move this legislation forward in the final days of the 2014 legislative session, over 78,000 California veterans attending a UC, CSU or CCC would have faced the possibility of losing their G.I. Bill benefits.

2013

AB 368 (Author) – Higher Education Residency Requirements for Military Personnel

Would have allowed active duty military service members and their dependents to pay in-state tuition regardless of their residency status, eliminating a potential financial disincentive for veterans to pursue their education in California and join the state’s workforce after graduation.

AB 526 (Co-author) – Deferred Financial Obligations for Those Serving Overseas

Extended to all military reservists called to active duty the financial protections previously provided only to military reservists called to active duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Military reservists who are called to active duty now receive the financial protection to defer payments without interest, up to 180 days, on a mortgage, credit card, retail installment contract, retail installment account, two car loans, property tax, or utility bill.

2012

AB 2130 (Co-author) – Peace Officer Training for Military Service Members

Would have allowed former military police officers to more easily qualify as local police officers by authorizing the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) to consider previous military police officer training as part of the commission’s basic course waiver process. Would have authorized POST to develop a protocol that considers previous military police officer training as an applicable substitute for portions of the current standard training.

2011

AB 398 (Author) – Fire Service Certification Military Service Members 

Allows service members to quickly become firefighters by giving the State Fire Marshal the authority to accept certification by the Department of Defense as equivalent training to Firefighter-1, which is the basic certification required for a firefighter in California.

AB 1209 (Co-author) – Funding for County Veterans Service Officers

Would have appropriated $7.3 million from the state General Fund to fund the activities of the County Veterans Service Officers. The bill made specific allocations for CVSOs, grants to counties and non-profit organizations for veterans services, and for Operation Welcome Home or a successor program.