Politics & Government

Georgia lawmakers aim to offer military hospitality

ATLANTA -- As the state Legislature gears down for the year, it's made a couple of moves toward making Georgia more attractive to military members, their families and the folks in Washington, D.C. But some lawmakers already are looking to make further changes next year.

The U.S. Department of Defense has published a list of policies they are urging all states to adopt. Those policies are aimed at helping military families deal with some of the hassles of moving from state to state or with the transition out of the service and into civilian work.

Several Georgia bills that the authors say would do those things have either been approved by the Legislature or are close to getting sent to Gov. Nathan Deal by the time the session ends Thursday.

"What's behind all these initiatives are: What can we do to make Georgia the most veteran-friendly state in the country?" said state Sen. Hunter Hill, R-Atlanta, chairman of the Senate Veterans, Military and Homeland Security Committee.

He made the comment Tuesday right after the Senate unanimously passed House Bill 1072, which allows Georgia National Guard members to get service-cancellable college loans to pay for the portion of tuition that the HOPE scholarship does not pay. The bill now goes to Deal.

Across the hall, the House had just passed Senate Bill 18, which tells the state's technical colleges to figure out which specific military experience can be used as college credit.

Senate Bill 18 is another avenue to help Georgia residents, said its House sponsor, state Rep. Richard Smith, R-Columbus.

Freshman state Sen. Larry Walker, R-Perry, is carrying a bill making it quicker for military dependents who are posted outside of Georgia to reapply for certain health care benefits if they return to the state.

House Bill 821, set for a Senate vote Thursday, would make it faster for military spouses to transfer their professional licenses from other states. It also would direct state licensing boards to figure out what military experience may count toward a license.

A lot of the military bills are relatively short. But taken together, they're meant to have a substantial impact.

Hill said he thinks there's more to be done to make Georgia attractive to veterans.

For example, states differ on what military medical experience they will count toward EMT and paramedic credentials.

"The licensure issue, expanding that into medical services is going to be a heavier lift. I'm interested in looking into that," he said.

Hill said he also wants to look into state tax credits for hiring veterans.

He also praised the Veterans Military Academic Training Center in Warner Robins. The school, set to open this year, will help people leaving the military leverage their experience and get the academic credit they need to move into civilian work.

"As the military pushes out veterans, we need to be pulling them" into work, Hill said.

State Rep. Heath Clark, R-Warner Robins, said he's looking forward to a study committee set to start hearings across the state this year on how the state should prepare for an evaluation by any future Base Closure and Realignment Commission.

"I'm looking at ways at the state level we can serve military families well," Clark said.

He said BRAC is a looming possibility, and it's important for Georgia bases like Robins Air Force Base to keep the work they have and attract other work.

Clark himself is a civilian software engineer on base and is looking for ways to grow the tech sector in Warner Robins so the base can find the private partners and staff it needs.

To contact writer Maggie Lee, e-mail mlee@macon.com.