Military commission clears first round

Lawmakers advanced a bill to select file March 9 that would create a commission to protect the state’s military installations, attract new missions and serve Nebraska’s military members and veterans.

LB754, introduced by Bellevue Sen. Sue Crawford, would establish the Commission on Military and Veterans Affairs. The governor-appointed commission would assist the state in attracting and maintaining military missions, Crawford said.

She said Nebraska currently has important assets such as Offutt Air Force Base and its estimated $1.3 billion annual contribution to the state’s economy. There also are opportunities to pursue and secure additional missions and leverage them for economic development across the state, she said.

“The commission and the military liaison established by this bill assure that Nebraska is in the best position to respond to these opportunities and threats when they occur,” Crawford said.

Among other duties, the commission would have the authority to:
• receive and administer funds;
• address matters of military significance in Nebraska;
• conduct activities relating to economic development;
• conduct activities relating to the welfare of veterans; and
• advise the governor, Legislature, Nebraska’s congressional delegation and other governmental officials where appropriate.

A Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee amendment, adopted 30-0, removed a requirement that the commission partner with the state Department of Economic Development in carrying out its functions.

The amendment also removed the bill’s provision for a $50 per diem for ex officio members and reduced the number of ex officio, nonvoting members of the commission to the following:
• chair of the State Committee of Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve;
• commander of the 55th Wing of the Air Combat Command or his or her designee;
• commander of the United States Strategic Command or his or her designee; and
• commander of the 557th Weather Wing of the United States Air Force or his or her designee.

Among the commission’s specific duties would be identifying ways to support sound infrastructure, adequate housing, education and workforce transition for Nebraska’s veterans and current and retired military personnel and their families.

Gretna Sen. John Murante, chairperson of the committee, praised Crawford for her ongoing work on behalf of the military in Nebraska.

“I don’t know of any member of this Legislature who has done more to ensure the rights and benefits of those members of our state,” he said.

Under the amendment, the state Department of Veterans’ Affairs would hire a military affairs liaison for the commission and provide administrative support.

The commission would provide an annual report to the governor, the Legislature and commanding officers of military bases in the state regarding recommendations for preserving and sustaining military assets and existing missions, as well as ways to encourage expanding such assets and missions.

Sen. Tommy Garrett of Bellevue supported the bill, saying Nebraska needs to be vigilant in maintaining its military assets and the economic development they bring to the state. The Air Force has excess bases, he said, and is looking for reasons to consider closures.

“One of the primary reasons that I’m a state senator is that I was very much interested in protecting Offutt Air Force Base,” Garrett said.

The bill advanced to select file 35-0.

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