After hearing from experts and considering public testimony, SAVA on Oct. 29, 2019, instructed staff to draft two potential committee bills, requested additional research on veteran service officers in selected states, received briefings on the latest actuarial valuations of public pension plans, and objected to an administrative rule on 9-1-1 grants.
Veterans' affairs and the HJ 23 study
A panel of experts on the needs of Montana's more than 93,000 veterans told committee members that the state's veteran service officers (VSOs) could do more outreach and provide critical benefit claims services to veterans if VSOs had administrative support staff. Currently, the Montana Veterans' Affairs Division (MVAD) is not funded sufficiently to allow the state's 22 regionally-positioned VSOs to employ administrative support staff so VSOs, who are specially trained and certified to help veterans develop claims for federal VA benefits, spend a significant amount of time answering phones, responding to general questions, and making referrals. After hearing the testimony and considering data showing the heavy caseload of VSOs, the committee instructed staff to draft a potential committee bill for $300,000 to help fund administrative staff for veteran service offices that justify the need.
In continuing its study under HJ 23 of the structure and funding of veterans' services, the committee requested further research on how veteran services are structured and funded in the following states: Washington, Michigan, South Dakota, Alaska, Minnesota, and Nebraska. Veterans' services in these states range from county-funded VSOs, to a hybrid of county- and state-funded VSOs, to state-funded VSOs.
Accessibilty for disabled electors and the HJ 3 study
The committee also heard from a panel of experts on the training that election administrators recieve on accomodations for disabled electors. Although federal laws address nondiscrimination and accessibility for disabled electors, state statutes addess physical accessibility of polling places only for general, special, or primary elections held in even-numbered years. Additionaly, although county election administrators and election judges are trained on providing accessible ballot marking devices, these devices are not always being made available for school district elections much less for special district elections. The committee is working with the Office of Public Instruction and the county election administrators to survey the schools and the counties about accommodations for disabled electors. Survey results are to be presented to the committee at its next meeting. Also at its next meeting, the committee will receive a discussion draft of a bill to revise state statutes on election accessibility.
The committee also received briefings on the FY 2019 actuarial valuations of Montana's nine defined benefit pension plans. In general, the funding status in all of the plans improved slightly. Presentation slides and a one-page summary sheet showing the FY 2019 funded ratios and amortization schedules for the plans (except the Volunteer Firefighters' Compensation Act fund) have been posted to SAVA's pension topic page. A one-page summary sheet is available by clicking here.
Administrative rule review
Legislative legal staff briefed the committee on proposed administrative rules for the 9-1-1 grant program and for implementation of HB 725 (2019) legalizing sports wagering. During its work session, the committee voted to object to the Department of Administration’s proposed change to administrative rule 2.13.407, lwhich relates to applicant priority and the criteria for awarding 9-1-1 grants. A motion to object to the proposed rules on sports wagering failed.
Next meeting and more information
The committee's next meeting is scheduled for Dec. 3. For more information, please visit the committee's website or contact committee staff.
The Legislative News.