The General Assembly passed seven bills supporting the military, some in the waning moments of the legislative session. They included extending the property tax exemption on the vehicles of disabled veterans to their surviving spouses and charging in-state college tuition to service members who leave the service while in South Carolina.
With the military sharply downsizing after 13 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, a new round of Base Realignment and Closure – called BRAC – could come as soon as 2019. States that show the most support for troops and their families by their laws could stand in better stead with the Pentagon than those that don’t, military backers say.
The task force is charged with helping to protect and expand missions at the state’s six major military installations.
Still pending in the legislature is a bill that would exempt military retirement pay from the state income tax. The proposal unanimously passed the House this year, but is still in the Senate Finance Committee.
The bill carries a heavy price tag: The tax generates $22 million a year in revenue from military retirees, according to the S.C. Board of Economic Advisors. Nearly 58,000 military retirees are in the Palmetto State, according to the U.S. Department of Defense.
But advocates for the bill say those dollars and more can be recaptured as the state grows its retiree base. The revenue would be made up by additional sales taxes paid by the retirees and income taxes paid by merchants and service providers who profit from them. The retirees themselves would pay income tax if they take a second job, which many do.
Military friendly bills passed since 2014 include:
• Vehicle property tax S.153: Provides for the extension of a property tax exemption to the vehicle of a disabled veteran’s surviving spouse. It is extended to one private passenger vehicle owned or leased by the spouse for their lifetime or until the spouse remarries.
• In-state tuition S.391: A person enrolled in a public institution of higher education and receiving educational assistance is entitled to pay in-state tuition and fees without regard to the length of time the covered individual has lived in the state. The benefit is extended to a veteran who served ninety days or longer on active duty in the military who enrolls within three years of discharge; or a person who is entitled to and receiving certain federal assistance by virtue of the person’s relationship to the veteran. A covered individual must live in the state while enrolled at the in-state institution.
• Absentee voting H.3154: Establishes the “South Carolina Uniform Military and Overseas Voters Act” to better facilitate casting absentee ballots in elections by deployed military and other overseas voters.
• Child custody H.3156: Creates the “Uniform Deployed Parents Custody And Visitation Act,” which establishes protocols to address issues of custodial responsibility that arise when a parent in armed services is deployed, including provisions for temporary child custody orders and agreements that are put in place during the deployment.
• Veterans study committee H.3324: Establishes a committee to study state and local veteran issues and to recommend legislation for improving the structure, delivery and coordination of veteran services in the state. The committee is comprised of members of the Joint Legislative Veterans Issues Study Committee created in 2010 or their successors, three members appointed by the governor, and three members appointed by the Adjutant General.
• Guard reemployment rights H.3547: Extends reemployment rights for those employed in South Carolina who are members of the S.C. National Guard and the S.C. State Guard. The change means the rights apply to a person who is employed in South Carolina but is a member of another state’s national or state guard.
• Child abuse H.3548: Enacts notification requirements for child abuse and neglect allegations involving active military families. The legislation establishes requirements for Department of Social Services reports of alleged child abuse and neglect involving a child of an active military family to be assigned to designated military authorities at military installations.
Tricare Pharmacy Policy
Beginning on October 1, TRICARE beneficiaries will have to obtain refills for certain drug prescriptions through the mail, or at military treatment facilities, according to a new interim final rule from the Defense Department.
The new policy affects refills of non-generic prescription “maintenance medications,” or drugs that people take on a regular basis for chronic conditions, such as high cholesterol or blood pressure. The change does not apply to medications for sudden infections or illnesses.
The change aims to save money for the department and TRICARE enrollees by avoiding the higher drug co-payments associated with many prescriptions medications in retail pharmacies.
For a comparison of prescription drug costs for TRICARE beneficiaries through mail, military treatment facilities, and retail pharmacies go to http://www.tricare.mil/pharmacycosts.
Thomas Crisp is a retired military officer from Whitmire. His veterans updates can be found weekly in The Newberry Observer.