At the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery

At the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery

On Veterans Day, one hundred years after the start of The Great War, we embrace our veterans here at home and those returning from America’s longest wars. We not only owe them and their families a debt of gratitude for their service and sacrifice in defense of our nation and our freedoms, but we owe them our best efforts to ensure that active duty troops and families, National Guard, reserve forces, and all veterans are fully honored for their service.

As state leaders, we must do everything in our power to ensure that these brave men and women and their families have the same opportunities to participate in, and benefit from, that American Dream which makes our Republic the greatest nation the world has ever known.

As Chair of The Council of State Governments, I’m honored to lead an organization committed to supporting our veterans through meaningful policies and programs in the states.

In Tennessee, we are focused on making it easier for returning veterans to gain the meaningful skills and education they need to attain employment in our 21st century economy. The U.S. military discharges 160,000 active service members and 110,000 Reserve and National Guard members each year. About 32,000 of those veterans will join the ranks of nearly 1 million veterans already unemployed.

Through the VETS Act we are working with post-secondary educational institutions to provide flexibility in enrollment and tuition to our returning veterans.

Please join me today in personally thanking those who have served our respective states and country and honoring our veterans by ensuring that they too have a pathway to prosperity. We must look at policies that can provide a path forward for our veterans who have committed to preserving prosperity for all Americans through their service and sacrifice.

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Legislation is last step to allow veterans groups to hold an annual fundraising event like duck races, cake walks, raffles and other games of chance

Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) and Senate Health and Welfare Committee Chairman Rusty Crowe (R-Johnson City) announced today they are drafting enabling legislation to allow 501 (c) (19) veterans organizations to raise funds for charitable purposes in accordance with Constitutional Amendment 4 which was ratified by the voters on Tuesday. Amendment 4, which gives veterans groups the same opportunity as 501 (c) (3) organizations to conduct an annual fundraising event like duck races, cake walks, raffles, and other games of chance, received 69.6% of the vote, outpacing all other constitutional amendments on the ballot.

Senator Crowe was the prime sponsor of the amendment and Senator Norris is Chairman of the Veterans Subcommittee of the Senate State and Local Government Committee. Any funds raised by the games under Amendment 4 must go to purposes that benefit the community, veterans or retired veterans.

“We are very pleased this amendment received such high approval among voters,” said Senator Norris. “These veterans groups do a lot of good community service work and the passage of this amendment can help them in their efforts. Our legislation will allow this process to move forward and will ensure that the deadline affords these organizations enough time to get their applications in.”

Currently, 501 (c) (3) organizations must submit an application and all required attachments between July 1st and January 31st each year for an event which takes place between July 1 and June 30.

“Years ago, when the constitutional amendment allowing charitable gaming passed, our veterans were left out,” said Senator Crowe. “We have been working ever since to change the Constitution so they can raise charitable funds to benefit the less fortunate in our communities like our wounded warriors. The legislation is the final step in ensuring that this constitutional amendment is enacted. We look forward to bringing it before the General Assembly as soon as the legislature convenes and will push for passage as quickly as possible.”

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“VETS” Legislation Offers In-State Tuition Rates,
Academic Support for Veterans

Posted on November 12, 2013

Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) and House Speaker Pro Tem Curtis Johnson (R-Clarksville) passed legislation creating a statewide support structure that offers in-state tuition rates for veterans pursuing higher education in Tennessee.

Public Chapter 612 establishes the Veterans Education Transition Support (VETS) Act, which prioritizes state administrative resources to help veterans fulfill their educational goals upon returning home from active duty.

“The VETS Act ensures that veterans have a clear, easy pathway to attend college in Tennessee,” Norris said. “As a state, we want to recognize and assist those soldiers who are coming home and exploring their education options.”

Specifically, the VETS Act provides in-state tuition rates for veterans at Tennessee public colleges and universities, thereby eliminating the issue of residency for those relying on GI Bill benefits. Norris said the legislation encourages enrollment of veterans and remove barriers known to impede their success in attaining higher education credentials.

Currently, recently-discharged veterans relocating to Tennessee must pay out-of-state tuition rates until residency is formally established. Under this bill, veterans enrolling within 24 months of discharge immediately receive the in-state tuition rate when starting college classes.

To maintain in-state status and rates, veterans have one year to present proof of established residency, such as a driver’s license, motor vehicle registration or proof of employment. Registering to vote also fulfills the requirement.

Norris said the VETS Act will attract a disciplined, technically-skilled student base, which is enticing to companies considering Tennessee as a potential destination.

“There is definitely an economic development component to the program,” Norris said. “As Tennessee competes for future corporate investment, having a pipeline of educated, skilled workers is a tremendous asset.”

The Act also creates a “VETS Campus” designation to recognize and promote schools that make veteran enrollment a priority. Higher education institutions that satisfy veteran-friendly criteria, such as specialized orientation and the availability of mentoring programs, can receive the designation.

“Our chief priority is to build a supportive learning atmosphere for service members who are transitioning out of a military setting,” Johnson said. “The key is creating an infrastructure that ensures veterans can then be successful in the academic environment.”

“This legislation puts Tennessee at the forefront of recognizing veterans, not only for their accomplishments as service members, but also for their future contributions as valued members of our workforce,” Johnson said.

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