The lesson this spring: don’t pass legislation that torques off folks in Aberdeen.
A group calling itself South Dakota Veterans for Veterans has filed the papers necessary to begin a petition drive to refer House Bill 1179 to a public vote. Here’s the header of their referendum petition:
…and here’s page 1 of the statement of organization of the ballot question committee supporting this referendum drive:
House Bill 1179, proposed by freshman District 8 Representative and Marine Corps veteran Mathew Wollmann, expands South Dakota’s legal definition of veteran for the purpose of determining eligibility for certain state benefits. Here is the bill’s full text (remember:
overstrike marks language deleted from current statute; underline marks language added)
Section 1. That § 33A-2-1 be amended to read as follows:
33A-2-1. For the purposes of all statutes relating to rights, privileges, ceremonial recognition, exemptions, and benefits (except a state bonus) of veterans and their dependents, the term, veteran, means any person who:
- Has served on continuous federalized active military duty for a period of at least ninety days for reasons other than training the full obligation for active duty, reserve, or National Guard service in the military, or received an early discharge for a medical condition, hardship, reduction in force, or at the convenience of the military; and
- Has been separated or discharged from such service honorably or under honorable conditions.
For purposes of this section, the term, benefits, includes veterans designation on a driver license or identification card, veterans license plates, veterans job preference, and burial benefits pursuant to §§ 33A-5-2 and 33A-5-3. [House Bill 1179, signed by Governor Dennis Daugaard 2015.03.10]
HB 1179 drew some fire from South Dakota veterans, but the American Legion and the North Central Chapter of the Paralyzed Veterans of America backed the bill. On a visit to Aberdeen last week, National American Legion Commander Mike Helm reiterated the Legion’s support for HB 1179:
In the eyes of the American Legion, a veteran is someone who steps forward to serve the United States, regardless of any active duty combat.
Mike Helm, national commander for the American Legion, stopped briefly in Aberdeen on Tuesday as part of a statewide tour of several American Legion posts.
In a brief talk to the 20 veterans in attendance, Helm said anyone who enlists and serves in the U.S. military has their life radically changed.
“It’s up to us to support that,” he said [Elisa Sand, “American Legion Head: Veteran Is Anyone Who Makes Commitment,” Aberdeen American News, 2015.04.22].
One Aberdeen veteran I have spoken to says he’s not as bent out of shape about admitting contemporary National Guard members to veterans’ club in South Dakota. He’s more concerned that HB 1179 opens the door for Vietnam-era Guardsmen who, unlike today’s Guards, enlisted in the Guard specifically to avoid the draft and the prospect of overseas deployment.
A fact sheet prepared by South Dakota Veterans for Veterans further argues that Rep. Wollmann’s bill entails costs to taxpayers that went unmentioned during the Legislature’s consideration of HB 1179:
We do not know what the cost will be yet because the legislature did not look into what the cost would be. We do know that there will be costs associated with the bill though since the state burial benefit was provided to the new veterans. Larry Zimmerman the SD Secretary of Veterans Affairs… went on record saying “This bill is not gonna cost your state anything.” Does Secretary Zimmerman really think that there will be no cost by making 25,000 eligible for benefits? [South Dakota Veterans for Veterans, information sheet, obtained by Dakota Free Press 2015.04.27]
Among the potential costs, South Dakota Veterans for Veterans cites the cost of supporting members of this new group of veterans who seek admission to the State Veterans’ Home. This year’s Senate Bill 34 changed the law to reduce eligibility requirements for admission to the Hot Springs facility to satisfaction of the state’s definition of veteran in SDCL 33A-2-1, the statute changed by HB 1179. South Dakota Veterans for Veterans contends the state will face more costs from admitting these new veterans.
Theodore Fowler, a Vietnam-era U.S. Army veteran and one of the organizers of this referendum drive, made news recently by participating in the April 9 protest against HB 1179 at a Northern State University event where Governor Daugaard was speaking. Governor Daugaard dodged Fowler and his fellow veterans. Fowler told the press at the time that he and several other veterans wanted to put HB 1179 to a vote. I visited with Fowler and explained the tight timeframe for referring legislation. Fowler and his veteran friends mobilized, and today Fowler announced that the Secretary of State has approved the HB 1179 petition and greenlighted circulation. Counting tonight, South Dakota Veterans for Veterans thus have 64 days to collect 13,871 signatures.
Fowler and friends are working to make up for lost circulation time. If you are interested in helping circulate this petition and put the definition of veteran to a public vote, call Fowler at 605-229-4757.