5/30/2013 4:23:00 PM Area state rep on select
committee to report back
on veteran's housing needs
by DENISE MARTIN
One of the final actions towards the closing of the state legislative session last week was appointment of nine lawmakers to a select committee on veterans housing. The group will meet over the interim and look at ways to meet housing needs of veterans. When the state legislature reconvenes February 25, 2014 the hope is that the committee members will be able to recommend ways to provide beds for veterans.
Rep. Bob Dettmer, R-Forest Lake, was appointed to the committee by the House Speaker. The bipartisan group will be chaired by Jerry Newton of the Coon Rapids area. Dettmer represents the southeast quarter of Chisago County. In a phone interview, Dettmer said there’s several hundred Minnesota homeless and aging veterans on waiting lists for existing beds, and the goal is “to take some of the pressure off the VA homes in the state.” Rep. Dettmer also pointed out he was successful in getting wording into the bonding bill, that was adopted, providing funding to do “Phase III” at the Minneapolis home for veterans. “I got that in at the last minute,” he added. This project is also tied to anticipated federal monies, and will add 100 beds, Dettmer explained. One of the hurdles in creating sufficient housing for veterans is that they are unable to use their per diem payments to stay in private nursing home facilities unless the facility has gotten VA certification. It’s an onerous process to become certified.
The select committee will look into methods to improve this process, Dettmer added. Among other veterans’ issues that Rep. Dettmer was pursuing in the recently completed legislative session was exempting veterans’ retirement income from state tax. Minnesota, he said, is one of just a few states that still tax veterans’ benefits. He said his bills (HF 59 and 60) got hearings in committees but never got to the floor. He will keep plugging away at this exemption, he added. Rep. Dettmer is also supportive of incentives like a tax credit for businesses hiring veterans. Dettmer said the process at the legislature sometimes gets in the way of accomplishing certain things. He would prefer utilizing an “Omnibus Veterans Bill” which would only wrap up the measures related to veterans in a single package for adoption. Then the governor could go line item by line item and delete anything he opposes. Dettmer said he spoke with Governor Mark Dayton about this approach and “he liked the idea.” House leaders would have to go along with procedural revisions like this one, however, and that’s another matter. Dettmer said veterans’ bills frequently are used to win votes for far-ranging Omnibus Bills that cover unrelated actions, in order to garner support for the whole package.