Dettmer introduces veterans’ legislation in House

Bill dealing with veterans preference for road contracts will be refined, brought back later

By T.W. Budig, ECM Capitol Reporter

District 52A Rep. Bob Dettmer is seeking a civil immunity provision for volunteers in the state’s Yellow Ribbon campaign associated with the Minnesota National Guard and is also looking to improve the chances for veteran-owned small businesses to win state road construction contracts.

Dettmer, R-Forest Lake, brought his bills before the House Veterans Service Committee on Monday, Jan. 30.

The civil immunity provision, Dettmer explained, grew out of concerns voiced in the Yellow Ribbon initiative in Washington County.

Under Dettmer’s provision, civil liability immunity protections are afforded Yellow Ribbon volunteers pursuing activities helpful to veterans’ families.

Judy Seeberger, of Beyond the Yellow Ribbon Network, testified that her husband recently returned from a year’s oversea military deployment. While gone, Yellow Ribbon volunteers assisted her with such tasks tree trimming and household chores.

“The people were there to help me,” she said.

The committee advanced the civil liability immunity provision to the House civil law committee.

A more controversial bill Dettmer is pursuing deals with changing state law — and offering the chance for counties to change their contracting practices — to allow more veteran-owned small businesses to win road construction contracts.

As proposed, Dettmer’s bill would create a stand-alone construction bid preference program for veteran-owned small business.

It would mandate the transportation department award up to a six percent preference to these small businesses. That is, a veteran-owned small business could be determined to be the low bidder on a given contract, even though the bid is six percent higher than the next lowest bid. Other provisions are included in the bill.

“This is the least we can do for them (veterans),” said Ralph Donais, of the Military Affairs Group, a national veterans organization backing the legislation.

Dettmer noted that proposed budget cuts to the Department of Defense could mean 100,000 troops could be laid-off. “They’re going to be coming home,” he said.

And they want the soldiers from Minnesota to stay in Minnesota, he said.

Currently, about 5 percent of state transportation construction contracts are awarded to veteran-owned business, according to Minnesota Department of Transportation official. But the contracts are going to a relatively small number of contractors, they noted.

Associated General Contractors of Minnesota official Tim Worke expressed several concerns with the legislation. The construction industry has been enduring a near Great Depression-like loss of work, he explained.

Bids are coming in low and close. And the six percent provision in Dettmer’s bill is “really creating some concerns” and questions with contractors on how bids are determined, he said.

Moreover, smaller construction companies do not have human resources departments and are concerned about increased amounts of paperwork the legislation could bring, he said.

And beyond this, simply finding veteran-owned small business has been difficult, Worke said.

Dettmer motioned to table his veteran-owned small businesses bill, indicating that he intended to refine the legislation and bring it back.

After the committee hearing, Dettmer said that he could have bill back before the committee within a couple of weeks.