The3rd meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Seniors, Veterans, Military Affairs, and Public Protection was held on Thursday, October 5, 2006, at 1:00 PM, in Room 169 of the Capitol Annex. Senator Elizabeth Tori, Chair, called the meeting to order, and the secretary called the roll.
Members:Senator Elizabeth Tori, Co-Chair; Representative Mike Weaver, Co-Chair; Senators Denise Harper Angel, Vernie McGaha, Dorsey Ridley, Richard "Dick" Roeding, Dan Seum, Katie Stine, Jack Westwood, and Ken Winters; Representatives Carolyn Belcher, Tom Burch, Bill Farmer, Mary Harper, Gerry Lynn, Fred Nesler, Tanya G Pullin, Tom Riner, Steven Rudy, and Charles L Siler.
Guests: BG (Ret.) Julius Berthold, Executive Director, Office of Management and Administration, Kentucky Department of Military Affairs; Mark Rutledge, Commissioner, Commonwealth Office of Technology, Finance and Administration Cabinet; Alecia Webb-Edgington, Executive Director, Kentucky Office of Homeland Security; BG Norman E. Arflack, Secretary, Justice and Public Safety Cabinet; Marty Pinkston, Deputy Commissioner, Kentucky Department of Veterans' Affairs; Sonia Sanders, Deputy Commissioner, Department of Vehicle Regulation, Kentucky Transportation Cabinet; and Bill May, Executive Director, Kentucky County Clerks Association.
LRC Staff: Scott Varland, CSA, Clint Newman, Mustapha Jammeh, Tyler Campbell, and Rhonda Schierer.
Co-Chair Tori summarized three Committee Resolutions honoring the following Kentuckians who gave their life in support of the Global War on Terror: Corporal Christopher Tyler Warndorf; Sergeant First Class Charles Jason Jones; and Corporal Windell Jeryd Simmons. All three Committee Resolutions were adopted by voice vote.
Co-Chair Tori then recognized BG (Ret.) Julius Berthold, Executive Director, Office of Management and Administration, Kentucky Department of Military Affairs to present on the implementation of Part XXVIII of 06 RS HB 380.
BG (Ret.) Berthold introduced Major Marion Peterson, the Family Assistance Officer for the Kentucky Department of Military Affairs, Kentucky Army and Air National Guard, to assist him with his presentation. BG (Ret.) Berthold brought regrets on behalf of Major General Donald Storm, Adjutant General of Kentucky, who was not present, because he was in Bardstown, Kentucky with Governor Ernie Fletcher presiding over a deployment ceremony as Battery C, 2nd Battalion, 138th Fuel Artillery was mobilizing for Operation Iraqi Freedom.
BG (Ret.) Berthold stated that Part XXVIII of ) 06 RS HB 380 is referred to as Omnibus Assistance to Veterans and Military Families. The Kentucky Department of Military Affairs must coordinate its efforts with all branches of the Armed Services to implement Part XXVIII. BG (Ret.) Berthold's presentation outlined each section of Part XXVIII.
The presentation outlined the: Military Family Assistance Trust Fund; Welcome Home Program; Kentucky Housing Corporation grants for deployed soldiers; state death gratuity increase for families of the National Guard and reserve soldiers who die on federal active duty; motor vehicle registration after deployment and the waiver of penalties; and two year state income tax exemption for members of the Armed Forces killed in the line of duty.
Co-Chair Tori asked BG (Ret.) Berthold whether or not he felt comfortable with the amount of publicity that Part XXVIII has been given. BG (Ret.) Berthold said that more publicity was needed to emphasize the various programs in Part XXVIII. He reiterated that the Inter-Service Family Assistance Committee will provide more support and offer more publicity to the implementation of Part XXVIII once the committee begins meeting in November.
Co-Chair Tori also asked BG (Ret.) Berthold whether the Department of Defense had to certify the death of a soldier before his or her family could receive the state death gratuity. BG (Ret.) Berthold said that the Department of Defense did have to certify the death of soldiers. Co-Chair Tori also asked whether or not any of the families of Kentucky soldiers killed in the Global War on Terrorism had been paid the $80,000 state death gratuity. BG (Ret.) Berthold stated that his office was in the process of approving eleven (11) different applications.
Representative Tom Burch asked BG (Ret.) Berthold to explain Section 7 of Part XXVII, relating to the mortgage payments of deployed soldiers. Representative Burch wanted to know how a deployed soldier can afford to make his mortgage payment if his salary as a soldier does not equal that of his regular job. Co-Chair Tori then recognized Lori Flanery, Chief Counsel, Kentucky Housing Corporation, to address Representative Burch's question.
Ms. Flanery stated that there is a provision within the bill that allows the Kentucky Housing Corporation to assist the families of soldiers assigned to federal active duty. The provision allows the corporation to help reduce principal or interest payments for soldiers who are called to active duty, as well as provide technical and ombudsman services to military families. Ms. Flanery stated that the Kentucky Housing Corporation offers services to customers who are dealing with financial hardships. Individuals who need assistance can enter the Customer Care Program, a program designed to provide assistance to people who have fallen through the cracks of the system and are facing the possibility of being homeless or have experienced an isolated incident that might prevent them from paying their mortgage. The Customer Care Program makes homeowners aware of all federal and state resources that may be available to them during times of financial hardship. Ms. Flanery stated that Part XXVIII has enabled the Kentucky Housing Corporation to provide services not only to soldiers and their families who have Kentucky Housing Loans but also to those soldiers and their families who do not have Kentucky Housing Corporation as their lender. Ms. Flanery stated that the Kentucky Housing Corporation will act as an advocate for military families with mortgages through other lenders.
Representative Burch asked if the Kentucky Housing Corporation had received any claims from soldiers or military families who were struggling to pay their mortgage. Ms. Flanery stated that at this time the Kentucky Housing Corporation has yet to receive a call for assistance in this area. Representative Burch stated that he would like to see Part XXVIII amended to allow for the suspension of mortgage payments while a soldier has been deployed on active duty.
Representative Burch also asked BG (Ret.) Berthold whether the multiple activations of members of the National Guard and Reserve over the past few years have interfered with their career goals in civilian life. Representative Burch said that those individuals should be guaranteed a job upon their return even if it is not the same job as when they left. BG (Ret.) Berthold responded that there are instances where soldiers do not return home to the exact same job.
Senator Winters asked BG (Ret.) Berthold why the "Welcome Home Program" listed in Section 5 is applicable only to returning members of the Kentucky National Guard. BG (Ret.) Berthold stated that each branch of the military generally provides some measure of support to returning soldiers. Each branch of service provides these services to its own troops. The dual mission of the Kentucky National Guard to serve both the federal and the state government dictates that Kentucky support its National Guard.
Co-Chair Weaver asked BG (Ret.) Berthold how many of the five (5) members of the Military Family Assistance Trust Fund Board had been appointed. BG (Ret.) Berthold responded by stating the Governor had appointed three (3) members, and the House of Representatives had appointed its one (1) member. Co-Chair Weaver asked how long ago the appointments to the board had been made. BG (Ret.) Berthold responded by stating that the Governor had appointed his members earlier in the day. Co-Chair Weaver stated that because the board had just been appointed, the board had not been able to meet and take action on the measures of Part XXVIII in HB 380. Co-Chair Weaver stated that the Military Family Assistance Trust Fund is an important part of the legislation, and the board needs a leader and must come together quickly and give assistance to those families that need it. BG (Ret.) Berthold stated that the Department of Military Affairs will oversee the Military Family Assistance Trust Fund Board and will meet to elect a chairperson to get the process started.
Senator Denise Harper Angel asked BG (Ret.) Berthold if he was at liberty to name the members of the Military Family Assistance Trust Fund Board, and she also asked whether a woman was appointed to the board to represent women veterans. BG (Ret.) Berthold stated that the Governor appointed Colonel Judy A. Greene-Baker, Colonel James G. Russell, and Lt. Colonel Darryl Shirley. He also stated that the House of Representatives appointed Roger Miller to the board.
The next item on the agenda was a presentation by the Department of Veterans' Affairs concerning the funding of the Veterans' Program Trust Fund. Marty Pinkston, Deputy Commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Veterans' Affairs, Sonia Sanders, Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Vehicle Regulation, and Bill May, Executive Director of the Kentucky County Clerks Association were present for the presentation.
Marty Pinkston, Deputy Commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs gave a presentation updating the committee on the Veterans' Program Trust Fund and its various functions. Deputy Commissioner Pinkston stated that the Veterans' Program Trust Fund is primarily funded by the sale of special military license plates and voluntary contributions.
Co-Chair Tori welcomed the speakers and stated that there had been a number of questions concerning the funding of the Veterans' Program Trust Fund. Co-Chair Tori deferred to Co-Chair Weaver for questions concerning the program. Co-Chair Weaver stated that he was concerned that the Veterans' Program Trust Fund was not being advertised as directed by statute. He also expressed concern that the various county clerks offices were unaware of the special military license plates available to veterans, and he believed that many county clerks were unaware of the voluntary contributions that could be made to the Veterans' Program Trust Fund. Co-Chair Weaver stated that the funding for the Veterans' Trust Fund relies heavily on the sale of special military license plates and voluntary contributions. Therefore, each county clerk's office should be made aware of these programs.
Deputy Commissioner Pinkston stated that the Department of Veterans' Affairs along with the Transportation Cabinet, designed the thirty-six (36) inch by thirty-six (36) inch poster that advertises the Veterans' Program Trust Fund. Department field representatives cover all one hundred-twenty (120) Kentucky counties and are responsible for delivering the posters to the office of each county clerk. He also stated that the Department of Veterans' Affairs has partnered with the Kentucky County Clerks Association to promote the "Help a Veteran Everyday" (HAVE) Program and the Veterans' Program Trust Fund through radio and television advertisements.
Bill May, Executive Director of the Kentucky County Clerks Association, stated that the association had looked for programs to support to mirror other programs supported by the circuit courts. He stated that the association was excited and pleased to promote the Veterans' Program Trust Fund. He stated that the Kentucky County Clerks Association paid for and distributed their own posters to promote the HAVE Program and the Veterans' Program Trust Fund. The posters were created in three different sizes and each county clerk's office was given a certain number of posters to advertise the programs. Executive Director May stated that the Kentucky County Clerks Association also purchased air time on radio and television in all of the major markets of Kentucky to promote both programs. Some deputy clerks in the various offices throughout the state may not be aware of the opportunities to assist veterans through contributions to the Veterans' Program Trust Fund and the HAVE Program. However, the association is prepared to address these issues.
Co-Chair Tori asked Executive Director May if he was aware whether every county clerk had been given the posters to advertise the Veterans' Program Trust Fund. He answered in the affirmative. Co-Chair Tori stated that she had yet to see the posters in her county clerk's office. Deputy Commissioner Pinkston stated that he had a similar experience in his hometown. However, his field representatives were sent to the Franklin County Clerk's Office, and the posters were visible. In addition, the deputy clerks were aware of the Veterans' Program Trust Fund and were accepting contributions from the public for that program.
Co-Chair Weaver stated that he still did not believe the program was being implemented in all Kentucky counties as outlined in the legislation. He stated that an increased effort must be made to ensure the success of the program as more combat veterans return from the Global War on Terrorism.
Senator Roeding asked if the special military license plates could include the "Unbridled Spirit" logo as Kentucky has received a number of accolades from across the nation concerning the state's motto. Deputy Commissioner Pinkston stated that a number of veterans' organizations had expressed concern over placing the state's logo on the license plate, because it would make the license plate appear too cluttered. Co-Chair Tori stated that legislation passed the previous session exempts special military license plates from bearing the insignia of "Unbridled Spirit."
James Lewis, Leslie County Clerk, provided a brief presentation on the HAVE Program and showed the committee the posters created by the Kentucky County Clerks Association to promote that program. He discussed the radio and television ads paid for by the association to promote the HAVE Program.
Deputy Commissioner Pinkston stated that the popularity of the Gold Star Mothers' Plate was spreading. He stated that the field representatives of the Kentucky Department of Veterans' Affairs personally deliver all of the Gold Star Mothers' license plates. He stated as more Gold Star Mothers have become aware of the license plates availability, requests for the plates have increased.
The next item on the agenda was the presentation of the annual Wireless Interoperability Report from the Commonwealth Office of Technology. Mark Rutledge, Commissioner, Commonwealth Office of Technology, Alecia Webb-Edgington, Executive Director, Kentucky Office of Homeland Security, and BG Norman Arflack, Secretary, Justice and Public Safety Cabinet were available to discuss the report.
Commissioner Rutledge stated that the Kentucky Wireless Interoperability Executive Committee (KWIEC) was able to accomplish its 2005 goals. KWIEC met the following goals in 2006: 1) Complete the Mobile Data Project; 2) Complete the Voice Mutual Aid and Interoperability Project; 3) Pursue a strategic initiative for the exchange of wireless data among public safety agencies; 4) Participate in the SAFECOM Pilot Project; and 5) Install the first phase of the Kentucky Emergency Warning System (KEWS) Project.
Commissioner Rutledge stated that Kentucky is quickly becoming the model for wireless interoperability. The Commonwealth of Kentucky was awarded the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) "Best in Business Continuity" award for its Voice Mutual Aid and Interoperability Project. This category addresses IT initiatives related to continuity of operations which make states better prepared for major incidents.
Commissioner Rutledge outlined KWIEC's tentative goals for next year. He stated that the committee would like to do the following in 2007: 1) Complete the Kentucky Emergency Warning System (KEWS) for the eastern segment of Kentucky; 2) Complete the deployment of KYWINS Messenger; 3) Create a strategic plan for "statewide" interoperability for the Commonwealth as recommended by SAFECOM; 4) Establish a public awareness and outreach program for Public Safety and Communications Interoperability; and 5) Secure funding for the west segment to complete the KEWS upgrade.
Co-Chair Tori asked Commissioner Rutledge if the Commonwealth would be equipped to withstand a barrage of tornadoes or other natural disasters and still provide communications to first responders and law enforcement. Commissioner Rutledge stated that because Kentucky has invested money in purchasing and sustaining its own infrastructure, and therefore does not have to rely on commercial carriers, wireless interoperability in Kentucky would be maintained through a natural disaster.
Secretary Arflack stated that the most recent flooding in central Kentucky brought to light some problems with the system, and KWIEC has already begun to resolve those issues. He stated that the program has continued to move forward, and problems have been corrected as they have been encountered. Secretary Arflack stated that the process is arduous, but the programs set in place by KWIEC are making the state safer.
Commissioner Rutledge stated that the General Assembly could continue to assist KWIEC by informing KWIEC of relevant legislation in other states and supporting its programs. The General Assembly could also assist KWIEC by securing an additional $16 million to complete the KEWS modernization project.
Senator Roeding asked Commissioner Rutledge if the state only used state owned towers to achieve wireless interoperability. Commissioner Rutledge said that all towers are state owned, and the state does not rely on commercial towers to have wireless interoperability. Senator Roeding said that many states have privatized the use of towers and made a great deal of money from this process. Commissioner Rutledge said that KWIEC has looked into commercial use, but the geographic location of many towers would make it impossible for them to be commercially used.
Representative Pullin asked Commissioner Rutledge if the state would be able to lease space on state-owned towers for commercial entities to hang equipment on towers. Commissioner Rutledge said that the state often does not own the property on which the state's towers are located. The state owns the tower, but not the land surrounding the tower. Land around the towers has been leased from property owners with the agreement that the state would not privatize or use the towers for commercial purposes. If the state did allow commercial providers to use the towers, many of these land owners would be afforded the opportunity to renegotiate the lease at a much higher cost to the state.
Commissioner Rutledge also pointed out that the structural engineers designed many of the towers at a specifically designed height to cover areas of the state and did not calibrate the possibility of adding additional equipment. Therefore, if the state did allow the towers to be leased by commercial providers, the towers themselves would have to be altered, which could cause the Commonwealth to absorb the new costs of restructuring the towers.
Co-Chair Tori asked the presenters if they are pleased with the cooperation that they have received from the various agencies in the state as they attempt to provide wireless interoperability to all areas of the state. Executive Director Webb-Edgington stated that she has never before seen this much cooperation in trying to achieve one common goal. She stated that all of the state's law enforcement agencies and first responders are passionate about wireless interoperability and the opportunities to provide additional security and safety to the men and women of Kentucky.
Senator Westwood asked the members of the panel about the age of Kentucky's KEWS towers and whether the state would have to appropriate additional funds to replace the older towers. Commissioner Rutledge said the state budget provides $26 million to cover the costs of maintaining or replacing the state's older towers.
Co-Chair Tori thanked the panel for their presentation. She entertained a motion to adjourn. The motion was adopted by voice vote.