As a current member of the Missouri National Guard and vice chair of the Missouri Military Preparedness and Enhancement Commission, I know firsthand the benefits of making Missouri more military and veteran friendly. Over my time in the Legislature, I have sponsored several military bills that became law, including the exemption of military pensions from taxation. In the nine years I have been in Jefferson City, I have never seen more quality military legislation move through the system than is moving this year.
Earlier this year, I wrote about several military and veteran bills I filed. We have had excellent success with that legislation, and I want to provide an update. I filed four bills related to military issues and all four have had hearings and passed out of their assigned committees. Three of the bills have already been approved the Senate, had House hearings, and have passed out of those committees, ready for House debate.
Senate Bill 116 would make it easier for our military members stationed overseas to vote. In committee and on the floor, I described the process for a service member to apply for, receive and submit an absentee ballot. The process can take weeks, and in some cases, more than a month for absentee ballots to move through the postal system. Many members of the military don’t have the time or patience to follow it through. SB 116 cuts some of that time out of the process by allowing soldiers, and others living overseas, to make their absentee ballot request online, and then follow the progress of their ballot request online.
Senate Bill 117 waives the higher education residency requirement for military members. Rather than make them pay full out-of-state tuition for their first year, the bill allows them to pay in-state rates at state universities in an effort to keep them living in Missouri. Military members tend to be well-trained, stable members of a community. Missouri needs to attract them and their families.
Senate Bill 118 authorizes and structures veterans’ treatment courts in the state. Patterned after very successful drug courts, a veterans’ treatment court would have the capability to look at all issues for non-violent offenders who are veterans, including mental health. While we have some veterans’ treatment courts in Missouri already (St. Louis, Kansas City, Jackson County and southeast Missouri), this bill will also allow a veteran to transfer jurisdictions to get to a veterans’ treatment court if their area does not have one. Veterans’ treatment courts are a fast-growing solution nationally and have proven to be effective in treating the whole problem, not just the symptoms.
All three of these bills have House versions moving, which are either already in Senate committees or are headed this way. Several other bills to help veterans, including bills dealing with professional licensing, child custody issues and residency for public K-12 education, are also moving through the legislative process. Those who monitor such issues both in Missouri and in Washington, D.C., have said they have never seen such broad action in one year in any state. I am proud to be part of that progress and very proud to support our current military members and veterans.
State Senator Will Kraus-R serves District Eight and is a resident of Lee’s Summit.