Governor Steve Beshear today ceremonially signed three bills to improve benefits and services to veterans and members of the military.
"We can never repay our military men and women for their service and sacrifice," said Gov. Beshear, "But we can, in fact we must, act where appropriate to lessen the hardship that military service sometimes creates to provide deserving recognition, to support our military installations, and to help our veterans and active service members take advantage of opportunities."
Bills Declare Kentucky a "Purple Heart State', Add to Purple Heart License Plate
House Bill 167 houses several additional measures related to the Commonwealth's military, veteran and public protection agencies, including declaring Kentucky as a Purple Heart state, allowing Kentucky to officially and formally recognize and honor the prestigious decoration and those Kentuckians who have been wounded or killed in the service of our country by being engaged in combat with an enemy force while protecting our freedom.
Sponsors of the measure include: Rep. Ruth Ann Palumbo, of Lexington; Rep. Tanya Pullin, of South Shore; Rep. Reggie Meeks, of Louisville; and Sen. Dennis Parrett, of Elizabethtown.
House Bill 272, sponsored by Rep. Dwight Butler, of Harned, requires the design of the Purple Heart license plates to include a picture of the Purple Heart medal and the words "Combat Wounded." The design changes take effect during the next replating cycle.
The Purple Heart license plate is one of several military veteran license plates available to Kentucky veterans. A total of $5 from the sale of each license plate goes to support the Kentucky Veterans Program Trust Fund.
Bill Supports Economic Development, Updates Code of Military Justice
House Bill 167, sponsored by Rep. Bob Damron, of Nicholasville, includes several significant initiatives related to the Department of Military Affairs and the Kentucky National Guard. First, this legislation enhances the Commonwealth's ability to support growth by our defense-related businesses operating at Lexington's Bluegrass Station.
Employment at Bluegrass Station has grown from 600 jobs in 1995 to approximately 2,800 jobs today, with 800 of those jobs created over the past 5 years. This legislation protects tax exempt status for military contractor "built-to-suit" projects on the 700-acre compound, providing for continuing economic growth and stability for Kentuckians.
Second, the legislation fully replaced the Kentucky National Guard's outdated Kentucky Code of Military Justice (KCMJ), created in 1954 and last updated in 1986, with a modern code based on the national Model State Code of Military Justice developed by the National Guard Bureau, modified to comply with the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
The new code creates a military justice system that is more easily understood by the soldiers and airmen whom it covers, and provides more consistency throughout military service whether under Title 10 (federal funding/federal control), Title 32 (federal funding/state control) or State Active Duty (state funding/state control) military status.
The legislation also codifies an executive reorganization for the Kentucky Office of Homeland Security, creating the Kentucky Intelligence Fusion Center -- a unified hub for law enforcement and military agencies at all levels in the fight against criminal activity and domestic and international terrorism.
Additionally, the legislation designates the Kentucky Long Rifle as the official gun of Kentucky.
Bill Supports Veterans' Program Trust Fund, Expands Medal Eligibility
Finally, House Bill 149, sponsored by Rep. Pullin who is chair of the House Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Protection Committee, codifies the intent of the Veterans' Program Trust Fund, clarifying the role of the Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs (KDVA) as manager of the Fund.
The bill also extends eligibility for the Kentucky Medal for Freedom to members of the armed forces killed in action who are buried in Kentucky on or after July 15, 2008, and who have a surviving spouse, parent or next available family member who is a Kentucky resident.
"Some of these changes may seem small, but they mean a great deal to the Kentucky veterans and their families who benefit from them," said KDVA Commissioner Ken Lucas. "We appreciate always having Gov. Beshear's full and unwavering support."
"I am proud to have sponsored House Bill 167, but this bill's numerous measures certainly would not have been possible without the help and hard work of all other legislators who sponsored pieces of legislation that became a part of my bill," said Rep. Bob Damron, sponsor of HB167. "The measures within HB167 signify Kentucky's continued dedication to its servicemen and women, veterans and homeland security operations, and I am honored to have been a part of its passage."
"Our servicemen and women devote their lives to ensure our freedom, and the Military Order of the Purple Heart is an organization all Kentuckians value," said Rep. Dwight Butler. "I am honored to have sponsored HB272 recognizing Combat Wounded Purple Heart veterans in Kentucky with a special commemorative license plate."