Zero tax bill gets zero action

By Tim Engstrom
The Minnesota Legionnaire

Note: The Minnesota Legionnaire’s press deadline was March 25.

ST. PAUL — An effort to reduce property taxes to zero on Posts belonging to congressionally chartered veteran organizations seem pretty much dead for the 2021 legislative session.

Bills that have not passed out of committee by the Easter break typically are left behind. In both the Senate and House, the bills have been stalled in tax committees.

Department Adjutant Mike Maxa called on Post leaders to contact lawmakers and help push this bill forward. It is HF182 and SF 259.

In the House, the Property Tax Division is chaired by Rep. Cheryl Youakim of Hopkins, with Jerry Hertaus of Greenfield as the minority lead.

Contact info:

Rep. Cheryl Youakim
591 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
St. Paul, MN 55155

Rep. Jerry Hertaus
389 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
St. Paul, MN 55155

In the Senate, the Subcommittee on Property Taxes is chaired by Bill Weber of Luverne, with Matt Klein of Mendota Heights as the minority lead.

Sen. Bill Weber
2109 Minnesota Senate Bldg.
St. Paul, MN 55155

Sen. Matt Klein
2109 Minnesota Senate Bldg.
St. Paul, MN 55155

The Department Executive Committee approved a resolution on March 6 that calls on legislators to approve 0 percent taxes on Legion Post homes. In practice, it means this is an issue it is OK for Legionnaires to be political about.

“Contacting the committee leaders and your local lawmakers would be prudent at this time,” Maxa said. “Show them the value of the community good that comes out of our buildings. Losing a Post home harms the economic value and closeness of a town.”

He added that Legionnaires also could ask their city and county officials to support this legislation, as many city officials recognize the value of their veterans’ groups and residents likely would be fine with offsetting the property taxes for Post homes.

Veterans Restorative Justice Act
This bill to allow veterans to participate in veteran courts regardless of which counties they reside in has been moving right along on the House side — but it is stuck on the Senate side.

HF 478 passed the Labor, Industry, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee in January, then passed the Judiciary Committee in February, then the Public Safety and Criminal Justice Committee in March.

It is awaiting a hearing in the Ways and Means Committee. A hearing is anticipated in April.

On the Senate side, it passed the Veterans and Military Affairs Committee in January and was referred to the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee, where it has stalled.

On March 12, Chairman Warren Limmer allowed a hearing on it but disallowed any vote.
In response, Minnesota American Legion Commander Mark Dvorak sent him and the entire committee a letter.

“One of those bills was legislation regarding prisoners with traumatic brain injuries. ‘People like this should not be in prison’ was said. How does a committee pass a bill that is compassionate to convicted criminals, then provide zero help to combat-traumatized veterans? This is shameful,” Dvorak wrote.

He noted the federal government passed the Veteran Treatment Coordination Act and then-President Donald Trump signed it in August 2020.

“The federal government is doing its part to help our broken veterans, and now it’s time for our Minnesota legislators to do their part,” Dvorak wrote.

Commanders from other veterans organizations belonging to the Minnesota Commanders’ Task Force also sent subsequent letters to the committee, asking why it won’t move on this legislation when, last summer, it passed the Senate three times unanimously but failed to see action in the House for various reasons.

In the past two years, Limmer has been responsible for the bill never getting past his committee. It only passed during the summer sessions because the Senate voted to skip the committee process.

Last summer on the Senate floor, however, he stated his reluctance, saying he worried if veterans get a treatment court, then “every special-interest group” will want one.

In late March, several measures related to veterans or the Minnesota National Guard were wrapped into omnibus bills, one in the House and one in the Senate. The VRJA appears in the House omnibus bill, HF 752, but not the Senate one.

In a hearing on March 25, Sen. Jerry Newton of Coon Rapids asked about it.

“I do want to make sure we have this passed this year,” he said. “I don’t want to have all of our veterans groups up in arms.”

Sen. Andrew Lang of Olivia said it wasn’t included because the bill was stuck in the Judiciary Committee.

“I am looking forward to that opportunity to vote on it again,” Lang said.

A House hearing on its omnibus bill took place March 26, after the Legionnaire’s press deadline.

The two omnibus bills could become wrapped into larger omnibus bills, rather than see the floor themselves.

Gambling tax relief
There were several bills. Now, it’s pretty much down to one.

Allied Charities of Minnesota Administrator Allen Lund said SF1322 was heard in the tax committee, authored by Chair Carla Nelson of Rochester and now has a companion House bill, HF2207, authored by Rep. Bob Dettmer of Forest Lake.

Lund was happy to see the one bill get this far.

“It’s in as good of a position as we could anticipate at this time,” he said.

COVID relief
The COVID-relief bill signed by Gov. Tim Walz in December provided grants to businesses shut down by the pandemic.

However, many American Legion Posts with business operations found they didn’t qualify for state aid under state Department of Revenue rules because they were classified as social/civic organizations and not bars or restaurants.
Walz’s policy adviser for veterans, Jon Kelly, let the Legionnaire and its readers know, via the March 2021 issue, that Posts could apply for grants through the county governments, instead.

The result, Adjutant Mike Maxa said, was that many Posts received the relief grants and many did not.

Hennepin County, for example, had an early cutoff compared to other counties. The result was no Legion or VFW Posts in Hennepin County were aware they needed to apply to the county instead of the state in time to apply. Other reports said some counties had given out all their funds before the Posts applied.

Department of Minnesota leadership holds out hope the Governor’s Office will recognize the problem and rectify it during any further COVID relief.

Commissioner Herke
As you likely know, Cabinet confirmations are a Senate function. The House is not involved.

The Senate Veterans and Military Affairs Committee unanimously approved the confirmation of Minnesota Veterans Affairs

Commissioner Larry Herke on March 18. The next step is a floor vote to confirm the commissioner, though it has not been scheduled.

The Department of Minnesota leadership has endorsed Herke, along with several other veterans organizations.

MDVA bills
Several bills pursued by the Minnesota Veterans Homes, such as adult day care and dental services, have been rolled into the omnibus bills for veterans and the Minnesota National Guard.

This includes funding for suicide prevention, vouchers for housing homeless veterans and technical changes to the Minnesota G.I. Bill, including eligibility for non-veteran-status guardsmen.

There is a slew of other bills regarding appropriations, licenses and other matters. The Legionnaire will report on all veterans-related legislation that succeeds in the 2021 session.

9/11 Task Force
This September will mark 20 years since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, which eventually led to American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The House omnibus bill provides $500,000 for a 9/11 Task Force, while the Senate version provides $112,000. The task force was in charge of the state memorializing the anniversary.

Herke told the Senate committee that its amount was enough for just the ceremony on Sept. 11, implying a greater amount would fund efforts to capture stories and document Minnesotans’ experiences.

Efforts at the Capitol will become clearer in the next month. The Legionnaire will have a report on what ended up in them and where things stand in the next issue.