Alabama State Legislators had Veterans in mind during the 2021 Regular Session. With the session ending shortly before Memorial Day, here’s a brief rundown on some things that affect Alabamians who have served.
The Legislature unanimously supported efforts to address Veteran suicide. House Joint Resolution 28, sponsored by Rep. Neil Rafferty, D-Birmingham, aligns the legislature’s Task Force on Veterans’ Suicide with the Governor’s Challenge to Prevent Suicide Among Service Members, Veterans, and their Families (SMVF). This combined effort, titled Alabama’s Challenge, was announced publicly by Gov. Kay Ivey on May 14. House Bill 453 and House Bill 309, sponsored by Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, provide the Alabama’s Challenge program much needed funding for fiscal years 2021 and 2022.
The Alabama’s Challenge partnership includes numerous state departments, including the Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs (ADVA), Alabama Department of Mental Health, Alabama Department of Public Health, Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services, Alabama Department of Human Resources, and Alabama National Guard, legislators and non-profits including Still Serving Veterans and Veterans Recovery Resources.
“I am encouraged by the momentum of this effort here in Alabama to confront the disparate impact of mental health challenges that many in the veteran community face, even years after they last wore the uniform,” said Rep. Rafferty. “As a Marine veteran who has been personally affected by the devastation following a fellow veteran taking their own life, I understand the importance and immediacy of addressing this issue head on.”
In addition to retirees, access to Alabama National Guard facilities will expand to include additional Veterans on August 1. House Bill 416, sponsored by Rep. Randy Wood, R-Anniston, grants access to the facilities, including gas stations and post or base exchange for certain Veterans including Medal of Honor and Purple Heart recipients, former prisoners of war, all service-connected disabled Veterans, and registered caregivers for such Veterans. The bill was drafted by the ADVA and coordinated with the Alabama National Guard to provide access similar to the recent federal legislation allowing access to federal installations.
Effective June 1, there’s an expansion of Alabama National Guard survivor benefits. Senate Bill 106, sponsored by Sen. Will Barfoot, R-Montgomery, increases the authorized survivor benefits when members of the ANG die from a service-related incident while serving on state active duty. This legislation increases the benefit to $100,000 and dependents receiving the benefit become eligible for the Alabama G.I. Dependent Scholarship.
The Alabama G.I. Dependent Scholarship Program was extended to immediately allow more inclusivity. House Bill 554, sponsored by Rep. Kerry Rich, R-Guntersville, extends the benefit to include eligible dependents attending certain federally recognized programs for students with intellectual disabilities at Alabama public colleges and universities. Previously, the scholarship program was only permitted to pay for college-level classes.
Lastly, for members transitioning from the military, Senate Bill 16, sponsored by Sen. Andrew Jones, R-Centre, makes it easier for them to receive Alabama teaching credentials. This becomes effective June 1.
“As the Chair of the Senate Veterans and Military Affairs committee, we had a big and successful session,” said Tom Butler, R-Madison. “Our committee worked closely with Lt. Gov. Ainsworth toward the goal of making Alabama the most military and Veteran friendly state in the nation. We are well on our way.”
“It is an honor and privilege to benefit our Veterans in any and every way we can,” said House Chair of Military and Veterans Affairs Committee Dickie Drake. “Anything we can do to benefit them is only a small thank you for what they have done for us.
Other Bills Worth Noting
Senate Bill 123 (Sen. Tom Butler, R-Madison): As requested by the State Board of Veterans Affairs, this legislation gives the ADVA consideration of applicants who served during peace time and who may reside outside of county lines when hiring Veterans Service Officers. It also clarifies some administrative issues including expanding the agency’s ability to inform Alabama’s 400,000 veterans. (Effective July 1, 2021)
House Joint Resolution 27 (Rep. Dickie Drake, R-Leeds): Also requested by the State Board of Veterans Affairs, this legislation provides legislative support for the next major expansion at the Alabama State Veterans Memorial Cemetery at Spanish Fort. Dedicated in 2012 to provide dignified burials and a lasting memorial for Alabama Veterans, the cemetery is designed to be developed in phases. This support is expected to help secure federal grant funding to construct the next phase allowing ADVA to continue to provide this valued benefit to eligible Veterans and their dependents. (Currently effective)
House Bill 78 (Rep. Rhett Marques, R-Enterprise): Under current law, disabled Veterans are exempt from certain taxes and fees associated with obtaining certain license plates. This legislation would also exempt disabled Veterans from the associated issuance fees for the disabled Veteran license plate. (Effective Jan. 1, 2022)
House Bill 195 (Rep. K.L. Brown, R-Jacksonville): This legislation creates the Cold War license plate available to honorably discharged Veterans who served at any time between September 2, 1945 and December 26, 1991. (Effective Jan. 1, 2022)
Senate Bill 104 (Sen. Will Barfoot, R-Montgomery): This legislation provides lifetime hunting and fishing licenses at a reduced fee for Alabama veterans who have a USDVA disability rating of 40% or more. Charged fees are based upon disability rating and/or age. (Effective Sept. 1, 2021)
Senate Bill 308 (Sen. Randy Price, R-Opelika): This legislation creates a statewide standardized process for concealed carry permits including a statewide database listing those individuals who are prohibited from acquiring a concealed carry permit. Currently, retired military members may be issued a concealed carry permit with no fee assessed by the sheriff. This legislation extends that benefit to include active-duty personnel and all honorably discharged Veterans who are otherwise authorized a concealed carry permit. The effective date will be determined based upon the completion of other provisions of the bill.