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Jobs bills would help veterans

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NEIL W. JOHNSON
January 27, 2012
— A bill advanced last week by a state assembly committee would give state hiring managers the option to appoint disabled veterans to mid- or upper-level "classified" state jobs without undergoing the full application process.

Another related bill pushed forward by the same committee would foster a potential $12 million program to create tax credits for businesses that hire unemployed, disabled veterans.


The provisions fall under a set of four bills authored by state Rep. Evan Wynn, R-Whitewater. They're aimed at helping unemployed military veterans—particularly disabled veterans—find jobs.


"The whole goal is to help veterans get hired. They're at a higher unemployed rate just like other special population groups," Wynn said.


According to the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs, there are 56,000 unemployed military veterans statewide. State figures show about 15 percent of recent veterans and nearly 50 percent of disabled veterans are unemployed, said Jason Johns, deputy secretary of the department.


The bills have gained bipartisan support in legislative hearings this week, Wynn said, although some lawmakers question estimated costs of the bill proposing tax credits.


Wynn, a former U.S. Army paratrooper, was injured after he landed badly during a jump. He hurt his back and neck and has lingering nerve damage, which he says affects his eye, arms and hands.


Wynn said he has an 80 percent disability.


Appointments for state jobs

One of the bills would allow hiring managers from state departments the option to waive normal application processes and instead appoint veterans to state jobs in management and other classified positions.


Under the bill, hiring managers could short-circuit parts of the state's 2- to 6-month long hiring process in favor of appointing a qualified candidate who is a disabled veteran, Johns said.


Disabled veterans already can be appointed to certain state jobs if the positions are considered nonprofessional or entry-level. The proposed bill would expand that rule to so-called "protected" jobs in management of state departments, including directors and team leaders, Johns said.


Such jobs are generally protected from firing and demotion, said Johns. He said the Department of Veterans Affairs has no stance on the bill, although the department and other veterans groups have helped guide some of Wynn's legislation on veterans.


The bill would not mandate hiring disabled veterans, Wynn said. He said anyone appointed through the bill would have to complete a civil service examination and have the necessary qualifications for a given job.


Wynn said the bill is intended to help ranking military veterans match their skills to the public sector job market.


"We're not giving out an entitlement to a veteran. These veterans have earned it," Wynn said. "It's about that retired master sergeant or that retired major, the person who's led troops and Marines. He doesn't want to start at that entry-level job."


Tax credits

Another of Wynn's bills would create tax credits for businesses that hire disabled veterans for permanent and part-time positions.


The credits would be spread out over four years and would total $10,000 for full-time positions and $5,000 for part-time positions.


The credits would cover some costs of hiring workers whose disabilities could require increased training or workplace modifications, Wynn said. Businesses would be required to retain employees hired under the bill for at least four years.


The bill has versions in the state Assembly and Senate and it has seen bipartisan support, Wynn said. Still, some lawmakers are concerned about possible costs.


The Wisconsin Department of Administration estimates the credits could cost the state $300,000 in the program's first year and $11.7 million in the next five years.


The estimate is based on state estimates that assume businesses would file tax credits for a maximum number of disabled veterans, Wynn said. He said other state estimates show a cost of $60,000 annually.


The tax credits could help pull some veterans off the unemployment rolls and put veterans in a position to pump money back into local economies, Wynn said.


"It would be worth $60,000 to $300,000 (a year)," Wynn said.


Another set of related bills would allow veterans to apply their military experience toward earning professional licenses and waive up to one professional license fee.



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