Veterans employment bill amended, challenged in committee

mlee@macon.comFebruary 14, 2013 

ATLANTA -- A bill that would allow certain military veterans to quickly turn their training into Georgia credentials for several vocations is running into complications, even as the governor’s office pushes for it and Warner Robins works to set up a veterans job center.

The state House Defense and Veterans Affairs Committee put House Bill 188 and new amendments on hold a second time, on testimony that military qualifications do not necessarily make veterans ready for civilian facilities.

Dennis McKeon, who runs his own heating, ventilation and air-conditioning company in Kennesaw, said he has employed some veterans who have gone on to get their licenses. He has an unlicensed vet on the payroll now.

“When he was in active duty he didn’t work on anything like we work on in Georgia,” such as residential units, or natural gas or propane, McKeon said of his employee.

“The safety is a huge issue in this business, because you’re working with natural gas, electricity, fuel oil, all different voltages of electricity.”

The bill would allow qualified veterans to skip state tests for entry-level licenses to be plumbers, electricians, HVAC technicians or contractors, sparing them a possible wait of months for a test-taking date.

If the bill passes, said bill sponsor state Rep. Christian Coomer, R-Cartersville, “you will not have thrown the door open for everybody who has a (military discharge certificate) to automatically be a licensed electrician in Georgia.”

The Secretary of State’s office would decide which specific military grades and specialties would be eligible for the test waiver.

Part of the difficulty is lumping together different professions into a single bill. A state HVAC license entitles the bearer to own a company and employ others, a sticking point with the industry.

By contrast, someone who holds the entry-level license for plumbing must still work for a master plumber.

“We support the bill in the effort to fast-track getting veterans jobs,” said Ellen Whitaker, executive director of the Plumbing and Mechanical Association of Georgia.

But both she and Mark Woodall from the Associated General Contractors of Georgia, a trade group for commercial contractors, asked for edits to clarify the intent of the bill and make sure only qualified people get licenses.

Tricia Pridemore, executive director of the Governor’s Office of Workforce Development, urged passage of the bill.

“We have, between now and the end of 2016, between 60,000 and 80,000 returning veterans coming back to the state of Georgia,” Pridemore said. The bill would cut red tape for them, she said, and speed them into jobs that would keep them off unemployment rolls.

Her office, as well as industry groups and Coomer are working together to develop another amended version of the bill.

Such detailed, technical negotiations may signal the kind of work that would be handled at the proposed Gateway Center in Warner Robins.

If the Legislature agrees with Gov. Nathan Deal’s proposed $10 million funding this spring, the center would house technical college, college and university teachers who would offer classes to round off veterans’ skills for a wide range of civilian workplaces.

The Telegraph is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service