JUNEAU — Veterans living in Alaska would receive credit toward college or vocational degrees for their service and military training under separate bills approved Friday in the House and Senate.
Spouses of soldiers stationed in Alaska would also become eligible for temporary professional licenses if accredited elsewhere.
Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Haines, said HB282 would give another reason for veterans who separate from Alaska bases to stay here for school or work. He said the other aspect of his bill will allow trained professionals to continue their careers while their spouses are stationed in Alaska.
“We need to help our soldiers however we can while they’re in Alaska,” Thomas said. “And if (veterans) commit to building their lives and families here, we need to commit to them.”
Thomas’ bill, which he said resulted from recommendations of the Department of Defense, passed the House by a unanimous vote and has been referred to the Senate Finance Committee.
Anchorage Democrat Sen. Bill Wielechowski sponsored the Senate version of the bill, SB150. It passed the Senate on a 19-1 vote and moved to the House.
His reasons are similar to Thomas, but he stressed that this is an inexpensive way to help veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who face especially high unemployment rates.
“These veterans fought to make a better future for us,” Wielechowski said in a release, shortly after his bill was referred to the House. “Now it’s time for us to fight for a better future for them.”
The only notable difference between the bills is the period of time over which the law would be enacted. Under the Senate version, the Alaska Workforce Investment Board would decide how to assign credit for military service and training.
That plan would cost the state no extra money.
The House bill calls for the hiring of a couple new employees, at an expected cost of slightly less than $250,000, but would enact the law sooner.
Wasilla Republican Sen. Charlie Huggins, a retired Army colonel, was the only legislator to vote against the Senate bill. His decision was based on the grounds that to address unemployment the law should take effect sooner rather than later. That difference in approach is why he endorsed the House bill Friday.
“It’s a great idea,” Huggins said, “That’s why we need an effective date as soon as we can get. Most of the (House) bill will start immediately and be complete no later than the end of the year.”
Regardless of the outcome on the debate over when the program should take effect, leaders from the House and Senate said getting a version of the bill passed is a priority, and Thomas said the Senate Finance Committee will begin work on his bill shortly.