Legislature(2013 - 2014)BUTROVICH 205
03/11/2014 09:00 AM STATE AFFAIRS
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SJR 24-VETERANS HEALTH ADMINISTRATION POLICIES 9:32:06 AM CHAIR DYSON announced the consideration of SJR 24. 9:32:28 AM ERIC HOLLEN, Staff, Senator Huggins, Alaska State Legislature, Juneau, Alaska, presented an overview of SJR 24 as follows: I am here today to request legislators to consider SJR 24, requesting Veterans Affairs to change their policies with regard to First Amendment rights and freedom of religion specifically. SJR 24 basically came to my attention mid-December of 2013. There was an issue regarding veterans not receiving Christmas cards based on language on the front of the cards, specifically "Merry Christmas" or "God bless you;" the cards that have this language were not delivered to the veterans. Dozens of students who attend Grace Academy in Prosper, Texas didn't get a chance to deliver their cards that they had made by hand for the local veterans hospital in Dallas. The cards were the idea of Susan Chapman, the math teacher at Grace Academy; she is married to a veteran and volunteers with the American Legion and other veterans' organizations. Specifically with regard to Miss Chapman's issue, a Veteran Administration's (VA) employee told her that her students' cards would not be accepted based on the language's religious tone, proclaiming "Merry Christmas" or the cards that said "God Bless You." MR. HOLLEN continued to point out VA hospital events that ignored the First Amendment and did not allow Christmas caroling and gifts. He summarized that he is requesting the following: That the Alaska State Legislature respectively request the United State Secretary of Veterans Affairs to reconsider the policies that are currently in place that violate the rights of veterans at VA hospitals nationally to ensure our honored veterans receive timely holiday gifts and cards. CHAIR DYSON noted his frustration with the Veterans Administration's policy towards Christmas cards and gifts. He asked Mr. Hollen if he had found any copies of the VA's policy. 9:35:54 AM MR. HOLLEN answered yes. He explained that the VA's policy language can be interpreted on a case by case basis. He noted that handling on a case by case basis led to only four opportunities where Christmas cards and gifts were mishandled. He pointed out that the aforementioned incidents had not occurred in Alaska. He explained that the VA's policy is interpreted by the person in charge. He noted that the backlash was significant and the previously mentioned incidents will not be a major issue again due to the backlash across the United States. He asserted that people were not very happy that veterans did not get their cards, especially after fighting for their country. SENATOR COGHILL stated that he could understand where the VA may have problems if they were required to send out Christmas cards, but to forbid other people from getting Christmas cards flies in the face of the Constitution. He added that regardless of whether an individual is a Christian or not, to send a card to a veteran and have it censored by the VA is unconscionable. He asked if the request from the Legislature to hear back from the United State Secretary of Veterans Affairs will have to specify the means in which the VA replies. 9:38:32 AM MR. HOLLEN answered no. SENATOR COGHILL recommended that language in SJR 24 specifies to either the "presiding officer" or to "each seated legislator." SENATOR DYSON announced that the Chair is open to a conceptual amendment. He suspected that if the reply went to the presiding officer that they would distribute it. SENATOR COGHILL noted being under some presiding officers that did not distribute information. He suggested "Each seated Alaska State Legislator" be inserted. SENATOR GIESSEL suggested that "Provide each member of the Alaska State Legislature with." SENATOR GIESSEL announced that she so moved the conceptual amendment to include "Provide each member of the Alaska State Legislature with." SENATOR COGHILL objected to review where the conceptual amendment goes in SJR 24. SENATOR GIESSEL explained that line 23, "Secretary of Veterans Affairs 'provide each member of the Alaska State Legislature with' copies." SENATOR COGHILL agreed with Senator Giessel's suggested amendment. CHAIR DYSON asked if there was objection to the conceptual amendment. He announced that seeing no objection, the conceptual amendment is accepted. SENATOR GIESSEL moved to report SJR 24, labeled 28-LS1412\A as amended with zero fiscal note and attached individual recommendations. 9:40:11 AM CHAIR DYSON asked if there was an objection. He announced that seeing no objection, CSSJR 24(STA) passes out of the Senate State Affairs Standing Committee.