Gov. Matt Bevin ceremonially signed eight military-focused bills today in a ceremony at the Boone National Guard Center. The bills, passed by the 2019 Kentucky General Assembly, demonstrate Kentucky’s commitment to veterans, those currently serving and their family members.
“It is an honor for me today to ceremonially sign eight important pieces of recently enacted military-focused legislation,” said Gov. Bevin. “Our military personnel and their families make tremendous sacrifices in service to our nation, and we celebrate these new laws that will positively impact their lives. We are grateful to our legislative partners who are working alongside our administration to make Kentucky the most military-friendly state in America.”
The eight bills addressed a range of issues for military families, including removal of barriers to employment for military spouses. Currently more than 17,000 active-duty spouses reside in Kentucky. These families move every two to three years and often have difficulty building a career. Military spouse unemployment rates have been reported to range from 12-26 percent, and those who are employed receive an average of 25% less than their equally qualified counterparts. The financial burden on these families intensifies when they encounter employment barriers, such as inconsistent interstate licensing, fewer employment opportunities, and pay inequality.
The Department of Defense has recognized this problem as a readiness issue for the military, and by extension, as a national security problem. Last year, House Bill 319 created a path for service members to receive occupational license reciprocity, and, this year, House Bill 323, sponsored by Rep. Tim Moore, extended this reciprocity to veterans, and spouses of veterans and service members. Previously, Kentucky law only granted spouses a six-month temporary license.
“The General Assembly took significant action during the 2019 session to improve the quality of life of our veterans, and the dedicated workers who support them,” Rep. Moore said. “HB 296 is a transformative measure that will allow us to better attract nurses to work at our veterans nursing homes and support our veterans in need. I’m proud to be from a state and community who recognize that there is nothing more important than providing a helping hand to those who fought for the values we hold so deeply.”
Another bill passed this year expands the interview preference for state jobs. Previously, the Kentucky Personnel Cabinet granted an interview preference to veterans, but House Bill 338, sponsored by Rep. Matthew Koch, opens that to all service members, veterans, and their spouses.
“HB 338 takes a strong step forward in providing more economic opportunities for all members of our military and their families,” Rep. Koch said. “By expanding current veteran interview preferences for state jobs to all service members and their spouses, we are ensuring that hiring those who have made significant sacrifices for our nation is a top priority. For as long as I am given the opportunity to serve in the General Assembly, I will fight to ensure that our military families always receive quality job opportunities.”
“The call of service goes far beyond the one in active duty, it’s a sacrifice and service of the family,” Personnel Secretary Thomas B. Stephens said. “We are thrilled to announce the revised recruitment Veterans’ Preference to include all military spouses, active duty or veteran. In the Commonwealth, you can start a career and make a difference for a lifetime. It’s our honor to offer this to our military families.”
House Bill 296, also sponsored by Rep. Moore, creates a student loan repayment program for registered nurses and licensed practical nurses who will be employed by the Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs (KDVA). KDVA administers four long-term skilled nursing veteran centers across the state, and the veteran centers are operating under-capacity because of a shortage of nurses. This program is expected to stimulate hiring, improve retention and expand operating capacity.
“We are confident that this program will attract the best nurses in the state to our facilities,” said KDVA Commissioner Ben Adams. “We will continue to provide the highest standard of care for our veterans.”
Each of these bills are part of Governor Bevin’s strategy to ensure that Kentucky is recognized as the most military- and veteran-friendly state in the nation. The administration’s efforts are spearheaded by the Kentucky Commission on Military Affairs (KCMA) and the Kentucky National Guard, and the Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs (KDVA).
“I am proud of what we have accomplished on behalf of America’s unsung heroes,” said Col. (Ret.) Blaine Hedges, executive director of KCMA. “Every day we go to work to make a difference and improve the quality of life for our transitioning service members, veterans, retirees, and their families. The leadership in our great state aspires to grow the military and veteran population in the Commonwealth, and we are working to make the decision on where to live an easy one. We still have more work to do, but this last legislative session was a synchronized effort and monumental step forward.”
The bills signed at the ceremony include:
SB 55: Adds a veterans-at-risk “Green Alert” to the “Golden Alert” system
HB 243: Requires Kentucky State Police to provide personal protection to Kentucky Medal of Honor recipients at public events and ceremonies
HB 296: Creates a student loan repayment program for registered nurses and licensed practical nurses who will be employed by the Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs
HB 316: Allows service members who receive official orders requiring relocation to terminate or suspend select services without penalty or fee
HB 323: Grants occupational license reciprocity to members of the reserve, National Guard, veterans, and their spouses
HB 338: Gives interview preference for state jobs to service members and their families
HB 356: Allows service members, spouses, and dependents to maintain residency status after being accepted or enrolled in a Kentucky public postsecondary institution, if the service member receives official orders to relocate
HB 399: Allows military families moving into the state on official orders to pre-enroll their children in a school district before obtaining an address