By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On Wednesday, February 14, the Alabama House of Representatives Military and Veterans Affairs Committee met.
The General Counsel of the Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs Sandy Speakman announced that the State of Alabama has been awarded the first ever Abraham Lincoln Excellence Award for Innovative State Program from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Chairman DuWayne Bridges (R) from Valley introduced new member Mike Holmes (R) from Wetumpka. Holmes recently won a Republican Special Election Runoff in House District 31. Since there was no Democratic or qualified independent or minor third party Holmes will be the next representative for District 31.
Representative-elect Holmes said that state election officials have ruled that he has to wait a to begin his term while the unnecessary General Election is being formally cancelled. That takes seven days.
Senator Gerald Dial addressed the Committee on legislation that he has sponsored or co-sponsored in the Alabama State Senate. Dial is also a General in the Alabama National Guard
Senate Bill 54 is sponsored by Senator Dial. Senator Dial said that when he first became a legislator in the 1970s he was a captain in the military and introduced a measure calling for free college tuition for Alabama National Guard Members. Sen. Dial said that the higher ed. people objected because of the costs. As a compromise a $500,000 a year line item was passed creating a scholarship fund for Guard members.
In the late 1970s tuition was very cheap compared to what it is today. The legislation at that time put in a maximum per guardsman of $500 a semester or $1000 a year. Since then tuition inflation has greatly increased at Alabama’s colleges. Those maximum limits have not changed. SB 54 raises that limit to $2000 a year.
Sen. Dial said, “I still believe we ought to give them free tuition, but I understand that is a fight I cannot win” “This (SB 54) increases that limit to better serve our men and women in uniform.”
SB 54 received a favorable report from the committee.
Next the Committee addressed SB 143 which is also sponsored by Sen. Dial. Sen. Dial serves on the armory commission which oversees all the armories. SB 143 provides that armory rental fees will be paid to the Armory Commission, instead of to the organization quartered at the armory. This bill will increase the receipts to the Armory Fund of the Alabama National Guard by an estimated $86,000 annually according to the fiscal note.
Sen. Dial said, “Nowadays the state pays the light bills and the utilities,” for the armories. “This bill saves the state some money.” “Unfortunately we have closed 11 armories in Alabama. This has nothing to do with us or our patriotism. The federal government has cut units.” Dial said that we are heading toward mega armories housing multiple units like the one under construction in Baldwin County.
The measure also passed with a favorable report.
The Committee addressed SB 86 which is sponsored by Senator Bryan Taylor. Since Taylor was in another meeting and Sen. Dial was a co-sponsor of this legislation Dial addressed the committee on this legislation as well.
Sen. Dial said, “Sometimes driver’s licenses run out while guardsmen are on deployment. This bill gives them more leeway so that they don’t lose their local driver’s license.” Dial said that this was an issue that we didn’t know existed until the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan where servicemen are deployed overseas for long periods of time. This gives them flexibility to get that renewed when their deployment finishes.
Rep. Dickie Drake (R) from Leeds said, “I appreciate Senator Taylor for bringing this bill.” Drake said that his son’s Air Guard unit was deployed and some of the soldiers with his unit had had driver’s license renewal problems.
Sen. Dial said, “There is a House bill just like it. We don’t care which one passes. We are just trying to get one passed.”
This also received a favorable report from the Committee.
Chairman Bridges said that there were a couple of problems with House Bill 28 sponsored by Rep. Jamie Isom so asked that the Committee carry it over a week.
Chairman DuWayne Bridges received a Certificate thanking him for his service. Rep. Bridges is not running for re-election.
Rep. Howard Sanderford (R) from Huntsville said that the first military appreciation day was last Thursday and it will be a challenge to improve on the event in the next military appreciation day.
Chairman Bridges said, “I want to recognize Speaker Hubbard for what he does for this committee. Without his leadership this Committee (the Military and Veterans Affairs Committee) would not exist.”