In-kind college credit, a health insurance clause, help for wounded warriors and job-related help are part of new military-friendly laws taking effect this year.
During the opening moments of her 2012 State of the State address, Gov. Mary Fallin acknowledged the service and sacrifice of Oklahoma’s active duty military and veterans.
Fallin noted that about 3,000 Oklahoma National Guard soldiers would be returning from Afghanistan and Kuwait. She said herself, Oklahoma Adjutant Gen. Myles Deering and Secretary of Veterans Affairs Rita Aragon, an Edmond resident, were ready to help them with a smooth transition back to the state.
“We have committed resources to help them find jobs, receive counseling and address other needs,” the governor said.
Thanks to the efforts of lawmakers, Fallin signed a number of military-related bills. They include:
• Senate Bill 138 authorizes the Department of Public Safety to create driver’s licenses with a small flag in one corner, to serve as a designation of veteran status. The law takes effect Nov. 1.
• SB 1863 allows Oklahoma colleges, universities and technology centers to provide academic credit to military veterans, who were honorably discharged in the previous three years, for any applicable education, training and experience received through military duty that pertains to his or her area of study. The law takes effect Nov. 1.
• SB 1905 would prohibit employers from requiring employees who are military retirees and have been provided with health coverage through a federal plan to participate in employer-sponsored health insurance coverage if the plan requires a contribution from the individuals. The law takes effect Nov. 1.
• SB 1951 creates the Wounded Warrior Protection Act. The measure protects the Combat-Related Special Compensation (CRSC) and SMC (Special Monthly Compensation) of wounded soldiers in divorce proceedings by deeming a portion of the CRSC or SMC as separate property, not divisible as a marital asset or community property. The bill also would prohibit alimony payments, whether designated for support or for property division, to be based on CRSC or SMC. The law took effect when it was signed by the governor on May 15.
• House Bill 1985 requires public sector employers to interview veterans who meet the minimum and special qualifications for job openings. It does not require the appointment of a veteran or disabled veteran to such positions. The law takes effect Nov. 1.
• HB 2689 allows students and dependents of military personnel who are from Oklahoma but stationed outside of the state to receive in-state college tuition. The student will retain in-state status after the military person has been discharged or released for reasons other than dishonorable as long as the student stays continuously enrolled in a program at an institution in the Oklahoma State System of Higher Education. The law took effect July 1.
• In her State of the State address this year Fallin, along with the Department of Commerce, launched OKJobMatch.com, a site to match job seekers with employers. The site serves as a comprehensive employment resource for returning military men and women who have bravely served us, the governor said.
• Fallin also appointed nine members to the War Veterans Commission, the controlling board of the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs (ODVA). Recently, the department has come under scrutiny for allegations of mistreatment of residents at the state’s veterans centers. The governor tasked her appointees with pursuing necessary changes to improve the quality of service at ODVA facilities.
• The fiscal year 2013 budget includes an extra $1 million in funding to increase nursing staff and reduce staff/patient ratios at veterans facilities.
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