Barney Bishop: Legislation designed to make Florida more attractive to veterans

Florida is firing the first cannon in a battle to convince veterans across the country and around the world to retire here.

Today in Tallahassee is Military Day when the Legislature honors the deeds of men and women who have committed themselves to the defense of our country.  So placed around the Capitol Courtyard will be an array of military vehicles, armored carriers, and weapons along with military personnel to answer anyone’s questions.

About 1.6 million veterans live in Florida and it’s projected that over the next 26 years about a half-million of them will die. But many veterans continue to move to the state.

The goal is to make Florida the No. 1 destination for veterans and the legislation that will be passed today and then signed by Gov. Rick Scott, himself a Navy veteran, will move Florida to the top of the list of states where veterans will want to live.

Senate Bill 860 was introduced by the Senate Military & Veteran Affairs, Space, & Domestic Security Committee, chaired by Sen. Thad Altman, R-Melbourne. It has quickly worked its way through the committee structure and was passed unanimously. Then it was sent to the House.

House Bill 7015, introduced by Rep. Jimmie Smith, R-Lecanto, an Army veteran, has also swept through the House, passed unanimously and then sent to the Senate.

What this legislation will do is to relax the residency requirements so that military personnel on tour here or veterans who have moved here will have quick access to needed services, particularly education, nursing homes and employment.

Veterans will be able to qualify for in-state tuition.  They will not have to reside here for a year before they can enter one of the state’s nursing homes.  Veterans also will receive extra points in the scoring process for those jobs that are scored by government or certain employers.

This groundbreaking legislation will allow the Florida Veterans Foundation to literally break ground on a permanent site on the East side of the House Office Building for the new Florida Veterans Memorial Garden.

Six cenotaphs, one for each branch of the military, will stand guard silently with a seventh one dedicated for POW’s/MIA’s.  Construction will be fast-tracked so that the garden will be dedicated on Veteran’s Day on Nov. 11, 2014.

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Fundraising will have to be fast-tracked to enable the memorial to be built in time.  Commerative bricks will be available so that anyone can donate a brick in memory of a loved one.

The legislation creates a new non-profit entity called Florida is for Veterans, Inc., which will be governed by a nine-member board appointed by the Governor, Senate President and House Speaker.  The corporation will hire a consultant to do the demographic research and advertising to entice veterans to move here.

Tallahassee’s newest attraction is destined to be visited by countless people to honor the nation’s veterans.

Barney Bishop was executive director of the Florida Democratic Party in the early 90s. He was president and CEO of Associated Industries of Florida for seven years. He has lived and worked as a lobbyist and political consultant in Tallahassee for the last 30 years.

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