Utah Airmen and Soldiers Benefit

from 2007 Legislative Session

 

Written by Shad West

Published April 17, 2007

 

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Utah Senators prepare to vote on pending legislation in their Capitol Hill chamber during the 2007 session.

Photo by Maj. Hank Mcintire

Utah Senators prepare to vote on pending legislation

in their Capitol Hill chamber during the 2007 session.

SALT LAKE CITY — Entering the final week of the Utah Legislative session, Col. Scot Olson had a pretty good idea that the Utah National Guard would fare well when it came time for legislators to sign the checks for this year’s budget. 

However, even Olson, who has been the Guard’s legislative liaison for the past two years was pleasantly surprised by the overwhelming support from Utah lawmakers.  All the major bills the Guard was counting on were approved, adding to Utah Soldiers’ and Airmen’s quality of life.

“They (the legislators) really stepped up to the plate,” Olson said. “The atmosphere on Capitol Hill was very positive, and we were very successful during the session.

“Our lawmakers expressed great sentiments toward our Soldiers who are deployed and their families,” added Olson.

Utah House members listen as the Gold Star Family License Plate bill is read Feb. 20.

Photo by Maj. Hank Mcintire

Utah House members listen as the Gold Star

Family License Plate bill is read Feb. 20.

During the session Olson said he built a special relationship with legislators including Senate President John Valentine.  Olson handed out camouflage rubber bracelets with the words “Defend Freedom” stamped across them. Valentine, a member of the National Guard Standing Committee wore his throughout the session.

“Every time I would see him in the hallways, he would raise his hand and say, ’This is what we are doing,’” Olson said.

"The reason I chose to wear the bracelet was to show my support and admiration for our National Guardsmen serving in Afghanistan and Iraq," Valentine said. "Many of us wanted them to see how much we supported them when they came home."

The adjutant general had placed a special emphasis on securing education benefits for Guard members this year and the Legislature didn’t disappoint as it passed both House Bill 1 and House Bill 309S01.

House Bill 1, the State Agency and Higher Education Base Budget Appropriation, guarantees $500,000 every year for Guard members’ education benefits. This year an additional one-time $500,000 was added specifically for Guard members.

Utah's Gold Star Mothers attend a House session as the the Gold Star Family License Place legislation is voted on and approved.

Photo by Maj. Hank Mcintire

Utah's Gold Star Mothers attend a House session as the the Gold

Star Family License Plate Legislation is voted on and approved.

“That’s $1 million for our Soldiers,” Olson said. “That money can be used at any state or private higher-learning institution.”

“In today’s environment a Soldier can go to school and make money,” Olson added.  That $500,000 will be ongoing; our Soldiers can count on it every year.”

"I worked extremely hard to put any extra residual money into education benefits for our Soldiers," said Valentine. "Intuitively the Legislature's first priority was to our Guard. I'm very proud of what we accomplished for them during this session."

House Bill 309S01, the Scott B. Lundell Tuition Waiver for Military Members' Surviving Dependents, guarantees a college education for surviving dependents of Utah military members who lost their lives while serving in combat.

The bill was named for 2nd Lt. Scott Lundell, I Corps Artillery, Utah National Guard, who died in action in Afghanistan last November.

The Legislature also funded various tuition waivers for Soldiers and Airmen, which helps augment federal programs already available. According to Olson, the National Guard did very well.

Jeanine Lundell, right, wife of 2nd Lt. Scott Lundell, is joined by Gov. Jon M. Huntsman Jr., at news conference announcing tuition legislation.

Photo by Maj. Hank McIntire

Jeanine Lundell, right, wife of 2nd Lt. Scott Lundell, is joined by Gov. Jon M. Huntsman Jr., at news conference announcing tuition legislation.

The Legislature also realized the strain that deployments can put on military families and allocated $270, 000 for the Guard to help fund counseling services for family members. 

One of the highlights for Olson this year was the passage of the Gold Star Family License Plate Legislation.

“That bill is unique in that it waives the cost of plates for those families who lost a loved one. It is a great way to raise awareness in our community much like the veterans plates,” Olson said. “There are those among us who have paid an ultimate price in this war.  It truly honors their sacrifice.”

According to Olson, the passage of all that legislation in fact does what those bracelets said; they help to “Defend Freedom” by offering great incentives that keep Guard members serving.