Call to Order and Roll Call
The2nd meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Veterans, Military Affairs, and Public Protection was held on Thursday, August 13, 2015, at 1:00 PM, in Room 154 of the Capitol Annex. Senator Albert Robinson, Chair, called the meeting to order, and the secretary called the roll.
Members:Senator Albert Robinson, Co-Chair; Representative Will Coursey, Co-Chair; Senators Julian M. Carroll, Perry B. Clark, C. B. Embry Jr., Carroll Gibson, Ernie Harris, Christian McDaniel, Dennis Parrett, Whitney Westerfield, Mike Wilson, and Max Wise; Representatives Tom Burch, Denver Butler, Larry Clark, Leslie Combs, Ron Crimm, David Hale, Kenny Imes, Martha Jane King, Donna Mayfield, David Meade, Terry Mills, Rick G. Nelson, Tom Riner, Dean Schamore, Rita Smart, John Tilley, and Russell Webber.
Guests: Colonel (Ret.) David Thompson, Executive Director, Kentucky Commission on Military Affairs (KCMA); Representative Greg Stumbo, Speaker of the House, and Bud Smith, WWII Veteran; and Commissioner Heather French Henry, Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs.
LRC Staff: Erica Warren, Kristopher Shera, Jessica Zeh, and Rhonda Schierer.
A motion and a second were made to approve the July 9, 2015, committee meeting minutes. The motion carried by a unanimous voice vote, and the minutes were approved.
Kentucky Commission on Military Affairs: Briefing on Military Activity in Kentucky
Colonel (Ret.) David Thompson, Executive Director, Kentucky Commission on Military Affairs (KCMA) gave a PowerPoint presentation on military activity in Kentucky. COL Thompson briefed the committee on KCMAís goals, which include protecting and growing Kentucky Department of Defense (DoD) installations, strengthening the defense-related economy in Kentucky, communicating strategically, and conducting inter-agency program support for a strong military in Kentucky.
COL Thompson discussed the military friendliness of state-level policies and legislation. Kentucky has an excellent record in regard to retirees and veterans and he also gave some areas for consideration. Several states offer 100 percent exemption on property taxes for service-connected totally disabled and also some level of exemption for other veterans who are not disabled. He added that 22 states exempt 100 percent of military pensions from taxation or achieve the same effect through the lack of state income tax. He stated that these things should be considered in Kentucky to compete. For military and families who are currently serving, Kentucky is among the best in the country with 120 plus pieces of military-friendly legislation over the past several years. The military student identifier is also something to consider next session as it is something DOD wants to pursue at the state and federal level.
KCMAís economic development initiatives for 2015-2016 are to discover opportunities and encourage growth of businesses and employment in defense and related industries. Over the next 12 months KCMA is undertaking in-depth studies on unmanned aerial systems, aviation, aerospace and defense, economic importance of Kentuckyís military installations, veterans, and cyber security. The results will establish an updated knowledge base for KCMA, Cabinet for Economic Development (CED), local, regional and state leaders, will inform legislators of opportunities for legislation, and enable CED and KCMA to partner effectively in support of future growth.
COL Thompson gave an installation update on Fort Knox, Fort Campbell, and the Blue Grass Army Depot. Fort Knox has a new medical facility projected for RFP in late 2015, and there were no reductions in the latest round of force structure cuts. There are several long-term growth objectives under study, and the local advocacy organization is expanding. Fort Campbell has been minimally impacted by the latest round of force structure cuts. It has a public partnership effort underway to enable the use of Army owned rail for benefit of the mega-site at Hopkinsville and they are constructing a five megawatt solar array. The Bluegrass Army Depot is $7 million ahead in revenue this fiscal year. Milcon consolidated a shipping facility for FY 16 execution, and the Blue Grass Army Depot saved about $10 million in process improvements this year as a result of aggressive cost avoidance efforts. The Chemical Demilitarization Plant is approximately 98 percent construction complete with an approximate date of completion being October 28, 2015.
COL Thompson gave a brief update on Base Re-Alignment and Closure (BRAC). DoD has excess infrastructure and desires a BRAC round to reduce the inventory and associated costs. DoD is taking risk in infrastructure to fund readiness, and increasing longer-term costs associated with facilities sustainment. Congressional resistance to BRAC is decreasing. If a BRAC is authorized in 2017 or soon thereafter, DoD would spend about $6 billion during the six year implementation period, but would expect to recoup approximately $6 billion within that same six year period. Following that initial six year period, BRAC reductions in infrastructure would result in $2 billion in annual recurring savings. Kentucky would prepare by having a Strength, Weakness, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) analysis and strategic plan. The SWOT plan would pursue installation-specific strategies designed to leverage strengths, mitigate weaknesses, exploit opportunities and defend against threats, enhance the military value of the installations, reduce installation operations costs and ensure that data is accurate. COL Thompson stated that the way ahead in 2015-2016 is through installations and economic development. The installations would advance mission growth targets outlined within the SWOT analysis and strategic plan, support growth of local and regional advocacy groups, and monitor military construction projects. The economic development federal grant will support economic development studies related to defense, support the Fort Campbell Army railhead co-use partnership, identify public-public and public-private partnerships with the Army, and support small business opportunities with DoD and defense contractors.
In response to a question from Representative Burch, COL Thompson stated that technology is much needed, however it does not replace the need for soldier intensive action and it cannot replace ground troops. COL Thompson added that there are 32 Brigade teams and three of them are at Ft. Campbell, which is 10 percent of the Armyís capability.
In response to a question from Senator Parrett, COL Thompson stated that the solar activity at Fort Knox is helping Kentucky be a leader. He added that energy efficiency was a part of the Silver Award Fort Knox received and that Kentucky is well positioned to come off the energy grid at some point in the future.
In response to a question from Chair Robinson, COL Thompson stated that Fort Knox has a $2.5 billion dollar impact, and the most number of retired military live in that region.
In response to a question from Senator Carroll, COL Thompson stated that there is not a policy established at this time regarding drones and the many issues that surround them on a state and local level. COL Thompson indicated that there will be an available proposal within the next 20 days. Also, the results of the study will be available during the upcoming legislative session.
Representative Greg Stumbo, Speaker of the House, and Bud Smith, WWII Veteran, discussed Mr. Smithís plight with the United States Department of Veterans Affairs to grant Mr. Smith his veteranís benefits. Mr. Smith is a 93 year old veteran who has been denied his veteranís benefits all these years and he also lost his mining pension as a result of his situation. Mr. Smithís found out that his papers had been burned in a fire where they were housed in St. Louis. Following Mr. Smithís discharge, he had a copy of his service records and discharge papers placed on record in the Floyd County Clerkís Office which proves his service. Mr. Smith wanted to tell his story for the sake of others who could have had similar problems and did not where to turn for help. Members were intrigued with how remarkable and interesting Mr. Smithís war time stories and memorabilia were. All members regretted that Mr. Smith had gone so many years without benefits and expressed their gratitude for him bringing the issue forward for the sake of others who could be going through something similar or for his service to our country. Speaker Stumbo told members of the committee that before he and Mr. Smith came to the meeting, Commissioner Heather French Henry had contacted his office and assured him that the Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs is going to make sure that Mr. Smithís situation is resolved and that he receives his benefits.
Commissioner Henry testified that a horrible injustice had been put upon Mr. Smith and she apologized on behalf of Veterans Affairs. Commissioner Henry explained that Veterans Affairs now has an updated system that uses digital files that will ensure that future records will never be lost. She and her expert staff are available to members for veteranís benefits questions.
Chair Robinson welcomed Representative David Hale as a new member to the Committee.
There being no further business, the meeting adjourned.