Nixon signs bills to help veterans
Missouri's war dead will be honored with highway markers and have their unclaimed cremated remains taken into the care of veterans groups under two new laws signed Thursday by Gov. Jay Nixon.
And living career military retirees will begin getting a tax break next year that will, within a few years, make their pensions exempt from state income tax.
In an appearance at the Missouri Veterans Home in Cape Girardeau, Nixon said those measures, as well as two other bills he signed in a ceremonial event, are a small way to honor the service of Missouri's veterans.
"Words are insufficient to explain our debt of gratitude to the great soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines," Nixon said. "Our freedoms are possible only because of what veterans have done for the past 233 years."
The highway markers, known as the "Heroes Way Interstate Interchange Designation Program," will allow relatives of those who died in military service in Iraq or Afghanistan to ask that an interstate interchange be named in their honor. Sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, the bill began with a push by Ross Gartman of Delta to honor a comrade and friend, Sgt. Brad Skelton of Gordonville, killed in Iraq in February 2008.
He was seeking to have the Jackson armory named for Skelton when the issue came up of other area soldiers who have also died in the line of duty, Gartman said. That prompted the discussions that led to the veterans interchange program, he said.
"Just in Jason's district, from Perryville to Sikeston, there are six names that could be designated," Gartman said.
Jim Shank of Jackson, father of Jeremy Shank, who was the first area soldier killed in combat in Iraq, said he will seek to have the new East Main Street interchange named for his son. "Our family will never forget," Shank said. "Hopefully it will help others never forget."
The two other bills signed by Nixon on Thursday would set aside May 1 as a day to recognize the families of soldiers and sailors wounded or killed in action and one to give veterans with vehicle plates showing military distinctions such as POW status or Purple Heart awards parking privileges at metered spaces.
The tax break for military retirees would exempt 15 percent of their pension income from taxes in 2010, increasing each year until 100 percent is exempt in 2016. The annual cost in reduced revenue, $29 million when fully implemented, is worth it even at a time of tough budget decisions, Nixon said.
"It is recognition of what has been done in a cost-effective way," Nixon said. "We can afford it."
2400 Veterans Memorial Drive, Cape Girardeau, Mo.