- Associated Press - Sunday, May 11, 2014

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - One of the centerpieces of Gov. Terry Branstad’s goals for the Legislature this year was to make Iowa more attractive to veterans returning home from military service. The initiative he called Home Base Iowa passed with broad support and is awaiting his signature.

The bill exempts federal retirement pay received for military service and survivor benefits from state individual income tax. It also eliminates special issuance fees of $25 to $35 for special military service license plates and allows businesses to grant a preference in hiring and promotion of veterans and some spouses.

In addition, community colleges, state universities and private colleges must file certain reports on educational credits awarded to veterans and professional. And occupational licensing boards must adopt rules to provide credit toward licensure for veterans with appropriate military education, service, and training.

The package is designed to make it easier for veterans to use their military training transition into civilian jobs and in other ways make the state an attractive place to work and hopefully settle into retirement.

“With high-quality, good paying jobs available in Iowa the Home Base Iowa jobs plan aims to match these dedicated Americans with quality careers that fit their unique skillsets,” his spokesman Jimmy Centers said in a statement Friday.

The Home Base Iowa bill is expected to exempt taxes for 7,765 current Iowans receiving military retirement income. It will cost the state about $9 million annually in revenue to the general fund.

Branstad has said he hopes to sign the bill on Memorial Day at Camp Dodge in Johnston

When he announced the idea in November, Branstad introduced it as a new way for the state to honor veterans.

He appointed former U.S. Rep. Leonard Boswell and Robert Myers, chief executive officer of convenience store chain Casey’s General Store Inc., to serve as co-chairmen of the Home Base Iowa Foundation. The group intends to raise money and support the effort to recruit veterans and families to Iowa.

“From a legislative perspective we can make our state more attractive to our veterans,” said Myers, a U.S. Army retiree who spent a 22-year career serving in Vietnam, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. “There’s a reason why many veterans don’t come back to Iowa, their home state. They go to states that are more receptive to them and have state laws that demonstrate this.”

In the past few years state legislatures have worked to gain a competitive advantage in attracting returning soldiers and their families. Part of the trend is encouraged by the hundreds of thousands of soldiers expected to return to civilian life as the U.S. military draws down forces.

The National Conference of State Legislatures says more than 20 states have passed laws authorizing state licensure boards to accept military education, training and experience toward licensure. Thirty-two states enacted legislation supporting expedited endorsements, access to temporary licenses or both for the majority of licensed occupations, and 20 states waive the first year residency requirement for new veterans for the purposes of in-state tuition at state-run universities.

“Often times when people are leaving the military after a 20-year career we encourage them to research this because there are states that do not tax retirement pay and offer a lot of these incentives,” said Peg Bergeron, executive director of the American Military Retirees Association, a Plattsburgh, New York-based group with 26,000 members who are military retirees and spouses. “Sometimes they’ve been gone so long they really don’t feel like their home state is their home state anymore. They might try to look at different states and find additional benefits.”

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