ANNAPOLIS – Creation of a new Cabinet-level Department of Veterans Affairs needs only a final OK from Governor Parris N. Glendening to become a reality.
The bill, which passed the House last week and the Senate earlier this month, was one of the governor’s legislative priorities for the 1999 session.
“The governor is obviously very happy the legislature approved the bill. It will be a great benefit to veterans around the state of Maryland,” said Donald H. Vandrey, a spokesman for the governor’s office.
The purpose of the bill is to establish a single point of contact for all veterans’ needs. There are about 536,000 veterans in Maryland, ranking it 17th nationally, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
“We have a number and a variety of commissions and committees and we need a coordinated effort in one department to address the many, many problems veterans are having today,” said Sen. Leo E. Green, D-Prince George’s, one of the senate sponsors.
“I’m elated. I just want to thank the governor because he played a big role in (passing the bill). It was his baby,” said Sen. Gloria G. Lawlah, D- Prince George’s, another sponsor.
The bill passed unanimously in the Senate on March 3. In the House of Delegates the bill passed March 16, 133 to 2, with six delegates not voting. The two delegates voting against the bill were Leon G. Billings, D- Montgomery, and Kenneth D. Schisler, R-Talbot.
“I don’t have anything against veterans. I just don’t think it was particularly fiscally responsible to create a new department,” Billings said.
The estimated cost of the department for the next fiscal year is $84,100. A majority of that money will pay the salary of the secretary of the department, $62,210 a year plus benefits. Any secretarial or administrative support will come from the three commissions the department will consolidate: the Maryland Veterans Commission, the Maryland Veteran’s Home Commission, and the War Memorial Commission.
The American Legion of Maryland is among the veterans’ organizations looking forward to the formation of the department, said Jack McLaughlin, a spokesman for the legion. Having all the diverse agencies under one roof will be more beneficial to veterans, he said.
Delegate George W. Owings III, D-Calvert, said the bill was never going to receive any adverse reactions from the legislature.
“The House realizes how important veterans are. After all, they are the ones who keep the place free,” Owings said. “I am pleased it passed and I was very proud to co-sponsor the bill.”