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Bills to Benefit Veterans and Active Duty Military Members Will Take Effective August 28, 2013

Also this week, the governor signed several pieces of legislation approved by the General Assembly to provide enhanced benefits to the men and women who have served, and who continue to serve, our great nation. The bills represent a variety of issues important to our veterans and active duty military members and make positive steps toward improving their quality of life. Considering all they have given to our country, I am proud to have supported these bills that are now going into effect as law.

One of the bills (SB 106) will give returning members of our military the opportunity to convert their training and experience into academic credits here at home. Specifically, it will allow certain military training courses to convert into academic credit at Missouri’s public colleges, universities and vocational and technical schools. The bill also gives certain members of the Armed Forces the opportunity to keep their professional health-related licenses or certificates in good standing while on active duty. In addition, it allows any applicable training or service received by military members to apply toward qualifications to receive a professional license or certificate.

Several of the bills (SB 106, SB 110, SB 117 and HB 148) contain language to establish the child custody and visitation rights of a deploying military parent. The bills are meant to protect deployed military members from having their custody orders changed while they are unavailable to respond to any court actions brought by the other parent. The bills provide deployed military parents the right to attend a hearing modifying visitation rights to his or her child. Also, the bills require 30 days before such a hearing can be conducted after the affected person returns home from deployment. In addition, the bills require that communications between parent and child are maintained even during the deployment.

Another bill (SB 117) signed into law allows outgoing members of the military who receive an honorable discharge to receive resident status in order to receive in-state tuition rates for public institutions of higher education in Missouri. The change will allow returning veterans to immediately pursue their educational goals rather than waiting for a year to achieve residency status in Missouri.

SB 116 will ensure that members of the military stationed overseas have fewer hurdles to jump over when they next go to vote. Right now, the process to obtain an absentee ballot can take exceedingly long, which can discourage many of our active duty military members from participating in the process. Because we want these fine men and women to be able to make their voices heard in the elections process, we passed legislation this year that establishes the Uniformed Military and Overseas Voters Act. The bill requires our Secretary of State to develop an online process to allow voters to apply and receive voter registration materials and military-overseas ballots. It is a change that should significantly speed up the process and allow military members, and other voters who are overseas, to be active participants in the political process.

Another important piece of legislation (HB 702) approved this year will empower the State Treasurer to return lost military medals to their rightful owners. Right now, our treasurer has more than 80 unclaimed military medals. The new law will allow his office to use photos and other information to try to identify and find their rightful owners. It is a small but important change that will hopefully allow these medals to be returned to the fine men and women who earned them, or their families.

Nationally, there are thousands of cremated remains of American veterans that have gone unidentified and unclaimed. These remains, including several thousand even here in Missouri, have remained in funeral homes as a proper burial has been denied to individuals who sacrificed all for this nation. Legislation signed into law this week (SB 186) will help resolve this problem by ensuring the unclaimed remains of veterans are interred with the due respect they deserve. The bill authorizes funeral establishments and coroners to release information to veterans’ service organizations so that they can help identify the remains. It also limits liability for the organizations and funeral establishments, which is an issue that has kept many of them from taking action in the past. We believe the bill will allow these heroes to finally receive the proper military burial they have rightfully earned.

As always, it is an honor to serve the good folks of the 153rd District. If you would like to discuss any issue, please call 573-751-1066 or you can e-mail me at steve.cookson@house.mo.gov .

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