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Legislature awash in veterans' bills

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ST. PAUL - When Spc. Adam Timperley returned from his Minnesota National Guard service in Iraq, he wanted a license plate that noted his service. So he asked one of his fellow soldiers about it.

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"He said he got a plate that said 'Persian Gulf War veteran' on it," Timperley recalled. "I said, 'We didn't serve in the Persian Gulf War.'"

Timperley, of Champlin, brought his dilemma to his state representative, Republican Bruce Anderson of Buffalo Township. Anderson, in turn, brought a bill to the full Legislature. It got approved Wednesday in the House Transportation Committee.

It's among a bundle of bills under consideration to recognize service members who have fought in a recent war or to make service more attractive to recruits.

The bills, at least 38 in the Senate and 32 in the House so far, cover everything from license plates, to job preferences and benefits for soldiers, veterans and military relatives, to an income tax checkoff that would fund grants to hard-up National Guard families.

"We're honored to be in your presence," said Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis, to Guard members at the Transportation Committee hearing.

Such effusive praise is common as more Minnesotans see their service in Iraq extended, and lawmakers look for ways to respond to public sympathy for the soldiers and their families.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty has proposed his own legislation to give National Guard members full college tuition reimbursement, re-enlistment bonuses and state tax benefits.

"Hopefully all of the bills you see at the Legislature are a reflection of the public's and the Legislature's desire to show support, love and help to the folks in the military," Pawlenty said. "It's an appropriate time to do that and the help is needed."

On Wednesday alone, two House committees and one Senate committee held hearings on a total of 11 bills related to National Guard and other veterans' issues. A bill approved in a Senate committee Wednesday would rename a portion of State Highway 371 near Little Falls as the "Purple Heart Memorial Highway."

"I think this is what we need to do to honor veterans," said the sponsor, Sen. Paul Koering, R-Fort Ripley.

Most hearings about military issues tend to draw crowds of veterans, both from wars long ago and under way. Spc. Michael Vogt of Olivia, recently back from service in Iraq, testified Wednesday in favor of the license plate bill.

"This is almost like saying 'Thank you,"' Vogt said. "Thank you for what you did. If there's anything we can do to say thank you, we should do it."

The bill would create three new license plate designations -- Iraq War Vet, Afghan War Vet, and GWOT Vet, which stands for "Global War on Terror." The Transportation Committee also passed a bill that would lift the current limit of two vehicles with special license plates per veterans.

Rep. Bernie Lieder, DFL-Crookston, raised concern that the state has created too many special license plates, which can make the plates hard to read for law enforcement.

But he quickly noted that he's a veteran himself and said he realized that "it's an emotional issue."

"Ultimately, I don't think I'll vote against this," Lieder said.

Patrick Condon can be reached at pcondon(at)ap.org

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