May 23, 2014

Happy Veterans Day!
Thanking those who serve & sacrifice
Legislature approves incentives to attract skilled veterans
Ensuring good housing for our veterans
Preserving Iowa's military history
News you can use

May 26 is Memorial Day — the day our nation remembers the men and women who died while serving in the Armed Forces. Our service members make big sacrifices for us. In return, we must honor our responsibilities to them.

In the Legislature, Republicans and Democrats have worked together to make Iowa a national leader in state support for veterans, service members and their families. Our efforts have helped Iowa become one of the first All-Star Vet States, an initiative that highlights opportunities, services and support that states offer to attract military families. In particular, All-Star Vet States are dedicated to employing our veterans. In recent months, Iowa businesses have committed to hiring 2,900 veterans and that number is growing.

Part of what earned us the All-Star Vets designation is our state's Home Base Iowa effort, which helps veterans find jobs, explore career paths and make a smooth transition to civilian life in Iowa. Home Base Iowa is also a hub for employers and communities that want to do more to attract military families. Companies are becoming Home Base Iowa Businesses by pledging jobs specifically for veterans, and Iowa towns are offering incentives to welcome veterans to Home Base Iowa Communities.

Iowa is also expanding educational opportunities for military families by offering in-state tuition at our community colleges and state universities. In addition, a work group is expected to make recommendations on a more consistent approach for awarding credit to veterans for their military training and experience, on strategies to recruit veterans to our colleges and universities, and on promoting the educational benefits provided to veterans.

This Memorial Day, as we say "thank you," we can be proud of the many innovative things Iowa is doing to ensure our state is the best place for veterans to live, learn and work.

It was a pleasure to work closely with Rep. Clel Baudler (R-Greenfield) this session to help Iowa kids by legalizing non-intoxicating medical cannabis oil to treat epileptic seizures. He deserves a lot of credit for making this first step possible. In 21 other states, parents can already use oil derived from marijuana to reduce the frequency of life-threatening seizures. We are still waiting for the Governor to sign SF 2360 into law.

Over the next five years, the U.S. Armed Services will downsize our military forces by 350,000. These Americans have skills that make them valuable to Iowa businesses and communities. Attracting them to our state will bring workers who can help grow our economy and expand our middle class.

To encourage more veterans to make Iowa their home, the Legislature approved the Home Base Iowa Act (Senate File 303). The centerpiece of the bill makes military retirement pay exempt from state individual income taxes starting this year. Those who are eligible for the tax exemption have given 20 or more years of military service to our country.

Iowa currently exempts the first $6,000 (single) and $12,000 (married) of a veteran's qualified retirement income from state taxes. To qualify, the taxpayer must be at least 55 or disabled. Twenty-six other states already exempt all military retirement pay. By joining them, we're cutting taxes for at least 7,765 Iowa veterans.

Other benefits to veterans in SF 303 include:

• Allowing private employers to grant a preference in hiring and promotion to veterans, and to the spouses of disabled veterans or service members who died because of active duty.

• Providing a clear pathway to jobs by matching military occupational training to Iowa's professional and occupational licensure requirements.

• Encouraging Iowa's colleges and universities to grant educational credits to veterans for military education, training and experience.

• Expanding eligibility and financing options for the Military Home Ownership Assistance Program.

• Providing special license plates for military service to veterans and service members free of charge.

• Clarifying that war veteran properties, such as Veterans of Foreign Wars halls, will not lose their tax-exempt status if they rent their facilities for $250 or less and proceeds are used for the purposes of the veterans' organization.

• Studying the feasibility of expedited licensing, certification or registration of military spouses if they have an occupational or professional license from another state.

Three bills approved by the Legislature during the 2014 session will help ensure our veterans and service members can afford a home that meets their families' needs.

Between January 2009 and June 2013, Iowa's Military Home Ownership Assistance Program boosted Iowa's economy by leveraging more than $178 million toward home purchases, but the program hasn't been able to keep up with demand among military families that want to settle in our communities. House File 2463 eliminates the waiting list for the program with a $2.5 million appropriation to provide service members and veterans with a $5,000 grant toward the down payment and closing costs on a qualifying home purchase.

Senate File 303 expands eligibility and financing options for the Military Home Ownership Assistance Program. Currently, eligibility is limited to those who served on active duty since 9/11. The bill extends eligibility for home ownership grants to those who served during the Persian Gulf Conflict (August 2, 1990, to April 6, 1991). It also expands financing options so that our veterans and service members can get the best possible deal when applying for a home loan.

The Department of Veteran Affairs reports that 2,754 Iowa veterans are 100 percent disabled; 60 percent of them own their home. Under current law, the Disabled Veterans Homestead Tax Credit goes to disabled veterans who have an annual income of $35,000 or less and have acquired their home through certain federal programs for special adaptive housing because of a service-connected disability.

Senate File 2352 makes the tax credit available to any eligible veteran with a permanent and total disability due to service-related injuries—regardless of income and how the home was purchased. The bill also extends the credit to surviving spouses or children of troops killed in action or who died because of service-related illness or injury, as certified by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

In recognition of the service and sacrifice of our military members, Iowa strives to preserve our state's military artifacts and history. This year, the Legislature provided funding (SF 2349) to continue that work at three Iowa museums:

• $500,000 for the Iowa Veterans Oral History Project. Waterloo's Sullivan Brothers Veterans Museum collects, preserves and interprets the stories of Iowa veterans and civilian soldiers throughout our state’s history. The museum includes interactive video portraying the stories of veterans from all corners of the state. Initial emphasis was on the recollections of World War II, Korea and Vietnam veterans, but the project has since expanded to include the stories of Iowans who have served since 2001. For more on the museum, go to

• $250,000 for upgrades at the Gold Star Military Museum, the only federally recognized repository for military artifacts in the state. Permanent exhibits tell the story of Iowans who have served in defense of our state and nation, from early settlement in the 1840s through military efforts sparked by the September 11 terrorist attacks. Complete details on this museum at Camp Dodge in Johnston are available at

• $100,000 for renovation and repairs to the Fort Des Moines Museum & Education Center. This museum and education center on the south side of Des Moines honors the U.S. Army's first officer candidate class for African American men in 1917 and the establishment of the first Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAACs) in 1942, both of which happened at Fort Des Moines. To learn more, check out the Fort Des Moines Museum page on Facebook.


Emergency medical providers keep us safe
May 18 to 24 is Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Week. Iowa has nearly 12,000 EMS providers, who responded to 244,011 calls in 2012. Those calls resulted in more than 207,000 patients being transported to hospitals.

Two-thirds of Iowa's EMS providers are volunteers who receive little-to-no pay for what they do. As a thank you, the Legislature this year doubled the volunteer EMS and firefighter tax credit, and extended the credit to reserve police officers (HF 2459).

Be prepared for storms
Severe weather has arrived in Iowa. Homeland Security & Emergency Management outlines three easy steps Iowans can take to be ready:

Step 1: Be aware of the potential for bad weather in your area. When weather alerts are issued, act quickly to stay safe.

Step 2: Make an emergency plan for what you will do if a severe weather alert is issued for your area or if there is a danger of flooding.

Step 3: Build an emergency supply kit. Keep a kit at home and in your car. Include water and non-perishable food, first aid kit, battery-operated flashlight and radio, copies of important documents and any special items you may need.

To learn more about planning and preparing for emergencies, visit

Youth invited to join statewide councils
The State of Iowa Youth Advisory Council (SIYAC) and the Iowa Youth Congress (IYC) are accepting applications for their 2014-2015 terms.

SIYAC is the state’s youth-led council, comprised of 21 members ages 14 to 21 from across Iowa. Its members forge partnerships with state-level agencies, lobby for legislation at the Capitol, develop statewide service initiatives, meet quarterly at the Statehouse and have biweekly conference calls.

Iowa Youth Congress participants hold elections, propose mock legislation, debate solutions and pass youth-centered bills on the floor of the Iowa House during their annual three-day program. Its members also present their bills to state legislators, who may turn them into official legislation.

There are no fees to participate in either program. For additional information and an application for SIYAC, go to For details on the Iowa Youth Congress, visit Applications are due by June 15.

How to Contact Me

Joe Bolkcom
728 2nd Avenue
Iowa City, IA 52245

About The Networker

The Networker provides brief summaries of some of the things that I am working on, the work of the General Assembly, and political perspectives on issues. I also use it to announce meetings and how to find useful information about state government.

Additional information

Senator Joe Bolkcom is an Assistant Majority Leader and chair of the Ways & Means Committee. He also serves on the Appropriations, Commerce, Environment & Energy Independence, Human Resources, and Natural Resources committees.