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Nixon, McCaskill mark Memorial Day with focus on veterans

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 27, 2010 - Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon was back in St. Louis today as part of his statewide round of ceremonial bill signings to assist and honor the state's military veterans.

He and U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., also will both highlight veterans on Monday, when they headline a parade of most of the state and region's top officials at a Memorial Day ceremony at the Jefferson Barracks national cemetary for military veterans.

Today's bill-signings featured the following:

-- House Bill 1524 will allow the secretary of state's office and local election authorities to use e-mail to send out absentee ballots and receive applications for absentee ballots and voter registrations. (Currently, Missouri residents in the military and the secretary of state's office have had to use the regular mail, to register or vote absentee.)

The bill also provides a specific bid preference for businesses owned by service-disabled veterans who bid for contracts the state or political subdivisions, and simplifies procedures for those seeking aid from the Missouri Military Family Relief Fund.

-- House Bill 1893 increases funding for the Veterans Commission Capital Improvement Trust Fund by directing a percentage of the money the state receives from gambling casinos.

-- House Bill 2147, which expands the state's A+ Schools Program for two-year public community colleges, and public or private technical and vocational schools, so that the aid can go to children of retired military veterans, "if that retired member relocates to Missouri within one year of retirement, and if the student meets the other program requirements."

-- House Bill 2262, which authorizes the Missouri National Guard to establish the Missouri Youth Challenge Academy, which would be 75 percent-funded by the federal government.

"The program, which has been used successfully in 28 other states, will focus on building life skills for high school dropouts so they can obtain their GED," Nixon's staff said. "The bill creates the Missouri Youth Challenge Foundation Fund so that the Missouri National Guard Association can accept private contributions to raise the 25 percent match."

All four bills actually had been signed into law on Thursday. As Missouri governors often do, Nixon is conducting ceremonial signings at various events aroung the state.

State Rep. Gina Walsh, D- Bellefontaine Neighbors, said the measures represent "four things we can do to make their lives easier."

At the state Veterans Home in north St. Louis County, Nixon mingled with Walsh and a number of disabled and elderly veterans who reside there, and along other veterans and their allies from around the area.

Yvonne Massey, of Overland, who is president of the ladies auxillary in Missouri for the Veterans of Foreign Wars, praised the governor for holding the event, saying his presence underscored the importance of veterans and those on active duty.

The election-related provisions have been a priority for Secretary of State Robin Carnahan and a number of legislators, including state Rep. John Diehl, R-Town and Country and former chairman of the St. Louis County Electgion Board.

Supporters cite a report from the Pew Center that said 16 states, including Missouri, "do not allow their military men and women stationed overseas time to vote."

"This is a very important piece of legislation for our military personnel stationed overseas," said Diehl in a statement. "Unfortunately, Missouri has performed very poorly in allowing military voters to cast ballots in timely manner. Too often, our military personnel have been disenfranchised. Fixing this situation has been a top priority of the House over the past two years."

Meanwhile, McCaskill, D-Mo., announced a series of veterans town halls next week around the state.

The first, at 9:15 a.m. Tuesday, will be in the St. Louis area at VFW Post 3944, 10815 Midland Blvd.

She also conducted a conference call Friday with state leaders of veterans groups. In a statement afterwards, the senator said, "thanked them for their continued work improving the lives of veterans"

During the call, McCaskill's staff said she "discussed with the veterans’ group leaders issues impacting Missouri’s veterans, including the rise in mental health issues for our younger service members returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan. McCaskill has worked on this issue tirelessly and shared with the leaders her initiatives as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee to bring better and more accessible mental health care to our military and their families.

"Additionally, she praised the leadership of the veterans’ organizations in shedding light on the fact that veterans in more rural areas do not have access to the type of care as those in more urban areas," her office said. "While in the Senate, she has passed a raise in the mileage reimbursement for rural veterans who travel to get health care and she vowed to continue to work in bringing an equal and affordable level of care to veterans in all areas of Missouri."

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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