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Veterans group unveils 2021 legislative priorities

By Jim Hannah, LRC

Frankfort, KY - Protecting the Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs (KDVA) budget while providing property tax relief for veterans service organizations is at the top of a wish list for the state's veterans advocates.

Joint Executive Council of Veterans Organizations (JECVO) No. 1 legislative priority for the 2021 Regular Session of the Kentucky General Assembly is protecting KDVA's budget, said Larry Arnett, the group's legislative officer. He made the comments while testifying before today's meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Protection.

KDVA Commissioner Keith Jackson testified that his department returned $263,000 to the state general fund in response to the governor's budget reduction request in April. The General Assembly will convene on Jan. 5 to pass the state's next fiscal budget.

Jackson also said his department had received $3.9 million from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. As of Oct. 31, the department had spent $1.9 million and obligated the remaining amount for similar COVID-19 expenses, including increases in medical costs for veterans.

JECVO'S second, and final priority, is legislation, known as Bill Request 153, that would create a property tax exemption for property owned by veterans service organizations.

To qualify for the tax exemption, over 50 percent of an organization's annual net income would have to be expended on behalf of veterans and other charitable causes, according to language in the bill.

The sponsor, Rep. Matthew Koch, R-Paris, testified similar legislation was filed during the last two regular sessions. He said 31 states already have laws governing property tax exemptions for veterans service organizations.

Arnett said if BR 153 was enacted it would mean a loss of about $300,000 annually in tax revenue. Only 8 percent of that figure currently goes to the state, he said. The majority goes to the cities or counties where the veterans service organizations have posts.

"They don't mind losing that $275,000 because they get much more than that in charitable contributions and civic involvement by our veterans organization folks," Arnett said about support for BR 153 from the Kentucky Association of Counties and Kentucky League of Cities.

Arnett said BR 153 was critical to the viability of Kentucky's veterans service organizations, many of which were in financial difficulty even before COVID-19.

Jackson said his department would also like to see legislation to align Kentucky's education benefits with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, establish a veterans suicide prevention program within his department, and designate June 12 as Women Veterans Appreciation Day.

Rep. Jim DuPlessis, R-Elizabethtown, said he would like to see the state's veterans advocates push for the passage of proposed legislation to provide tax incentives for service members to retire in Kentucky. His district includes a portion of Fort Knox, with a daytime population of about 25,200 soldiers, civilian employees and family members, according to the U.S. Army.

This story was posted on 2020-11-19 20:24:47
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