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Tax exemptions, smoother school transitions among ways Alabama is making life easier for veterans, State Sen. Andrew Jones says

State Sen. Andrew Jones appeared in the Capitol Journal this week to talk about a series of new military-related bills he hopes will help make Alabama the most military-friendly state in the country.

“We have a pretty big package of bills,” said Jones (R-Centre). “Some are going to start in the House, some are going to start in the Senate. Four passed the Senate this week, two of which I was on. One is sports-related.”

The first bill Jones debated would allow high school athletes from military families to compete as soon as possible after moving to Alabama.

“Military families who relocate to Alabama ask if they can have their children participate in high school sports immediately, without the transfer portal or waiting period,” Jones said. “Having a year or two of temporary orders is important to these families. If they have to wait a year to become eligible to play, it would mean valuable time is lost in their child's athletic career.”

“We want to make sure they are eligible to play and are able to come here. For many of these people, it's not their fault or their parents' fault that they're being ordered to relocate. We want to help them in any way we can.”

He also mentioned an additional bill in the bill package that focuses on tax exemptions for people who serve in the military in Alabama.

“The other bill I'm really excited about,” Jones continued, “is about exempting active duty National Guard and Reserve members from state income taxes. Thirty states have no income tax, full exemption or partial exemption for active duty military members. Now the National Guard and Reserve members will join them in that ranks.”

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He also noted that the exemption would not cost the state a lot of money.

“Believe it or not, this fiscal measure won't be a huge hit to the budget — about $2.1 million when fully implemented — but this money will mean a lot to the military families serving in our state.”

Jones praised the Alabama High School Athletic Association for being considerate of military families.

“The High School Athletic Association, from our understanding, has worked with military families. There was no clear law that military members could point to and say this is what's happening in Alabama, and there was no clear information on what their child's status would be once they got here. So we wanted something that the law clearly couldn't change, something that would guarantee them that they would be eligible once they got here.”

He acknowledged that in past years, Alabama hasn't ranked higher than other states in terms of military friendliness.

“You know, we weren't ranked very well a few years ago. Our position in the Department of Defense in terms of supporting families and communities, we weren't ranked very well in terms of what we did for families and our rankings.”

“Alabama is said to be second only to Florida in military and veteran friendliness, based on factors such as how easy it is for military spouses to find work when they move to Alabama.”

Jones also discussed bills relating to juvenile justice on military bases, special needs and dependents of military personnel.

“These bills may be small in the grand scheme of things, but they really help and support military families in the state and help move us up the rankings,” he said.

“So in the unfortunate event of a military base closing anywhere in the U.S., our ranking will be higher and we will contribute to the protection and defense of bases in our state.”

Jones said the state's recently enacted school choice law will attract military families.

“I’m also very pleased that Alabama has moved forward with their school choice bill, because I can imagine that military families will probably take advantage of some of these opportunities as they relocate to certain areas of the state.”

RELATED: ADVA Commissioner: Historic opportunity to help Alabama veterans

The final bill touched on concerned veterans' access to mental health care.

“Rep. Chip Brown and I spent most of the week of spring break working. We had four or five Zoom meetings with all the stakeholders, the key stakeholders, including the state Department of Mental Health and the Department of Veterans Affairs, talking about how we can build a program to provide treatment and mental health services that better meet the needs of veterans, how we can do pilot projects to fund specific treatment for veterans.”

Jones said while gathering information for the bill, he found that veterans were more likely to respond to stories of other veterans receiving therapy, and he also highlighted the struggles with addiction that veterans experience.

“I think I've said before that veterans are at higher risk for suicide and opioid addiction. Veterans' opioid and drug addiction rates have doubled nationally in 10 years. So there's a lot at stake. Tailored support, peer-to-peer services, tailored to the specific needs and thoughts of veterans is essential.”

Jones said “some technical details” are still being worked out, but that lawmakers are very close to an acceptable product.

“We're hopeful that we'll have that bill introduced probably next week.”

Austin Shipley is a staff writer for Yellow Hammer News.

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