Senate Committee on Veteran Affairs and Military Installations Examines the Texas National Guard
AUSTIN - The Senate Committee on Veteran Affairs and Military Installations met Tuesday, August 22, 2000, at the State Capitol. The committee will meet once more to finalize a report with recommendations for the 77th Legislature.
Senator Carlos F. Truan, chair of the committee, welcomed the members by reviewing the importance of the military in Texas. The defense industry is the largest industrial employer in the state, employing almost a quarter million Texans in 1998. Truan called on government and business leaders to "vigorously commit to maintaining and enhancing our defense facilities" and thanked them for the support they have given Texas veterans. The state is home to 1.6 million veterans, the third highest population in the country and was first in the nation in 1998 in per capita federal Veteran Administration expenditures.
The first testimony came from Adjutant General Daniel James III of the Texas National Guard. He thanked the committee for their support during the last legislative session. That support included bringing the state forces under the workers' compensation program and adjusting the pay for state service to a level closer to the federal service's pay. The Legislature has also allowed more than 1,300 members of the Army, Air, Texas State Guard, and Texas National Guard to enroll in institutions of higher learning through the tuition assistance program. The general also asked for an additional one million dollars in fiscal year 2002 and two million in 2003 for educational purposes.
James explained many of the services provided by the Texas National Guard, hereafter known as Guard, including disaster relief in time of floods, hurricanes and wildfires. This summer alone, the Guard is fighting fires in East, North and Central Texas. James also requested an increase of $1.5 million per year in active duty funds. This money would be dedicated to state emergencies and could be spent only with the approval of the governor. James also listed a number of medical intervention missions and civil engineering projects. With the assistance of the Department of Health and the Marine Reserve, the Guard administered 6,700 inoculations and 7,500 dental procedures in Texas this year. James also described how the Youth Challenge Program, a boot-camp funded by federal and state dollars in Galveston, teaches life skills and work training for young boys and girls which are at risk of dropping out of high school or are involved in gangs. The Guard will be asking for funding to expand the program into Corpus Christi.
The committee also discussed the preservation of historic military buildings. The Guard is asking for $17 million to save some buildings from deterioration, or $23 million to completely restore them. Commander James Keith Sellers, from the Naval Air Station in Corpus Christi, said they have more than 100 facilities that could be registered as historic, but don't have the money to submit the applications. Senator Shapleigh also talked about 100 buildings in El Paso that could be declared historic, a third of them military installations. But the cost of a historical marker alone is $1,800 dollars.
Educational opportunities for the military were also discussed, such as standardized tests required for a college education and the benefits of the less expensive state tuition provided to soldiers from out of state.
Committee members include Chairman Carlos F. Truan of Corpus Christi, Senators Troy Fraser of Horseshoe Bay, Steve Ogden of Bryan, Eliot Shapleigh of El Paso, and Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio.
The committee stands in recess pending call of the chair.