PHOENIX – Rep. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, thought about leaving the Marine Corps in the ’80s to drive trucks until he learned his military license wouldn’t apply toward a commercial driver’s license.
“Why do I have to spend $4,000 to go to truck driving school for something I already have?” he said. “I just went right back and stayed until I retired.”
Borrelli, who spent 22 years as a Marine, is the author of legislation recently signed into law that will count military experience toward a commercial driver’s license or a nursing license.
“Who do you want to take care of you in the hospital, someone with years of experience or someone right out of school?” he said. “Veterans already have their training. They’ve done emergency operations under fire. They’re used to the high stress environment.”
As they transition from military to civilian life, Borrelli said veterans can face a lot of “redundant training” to get a state license for something they were trained to do in the military. When the law goes into effect next year, veterans will only need to take the written tests as long as their military training matches the state’s standards.
Nursing and commercial driving can be the hardest fields for veterans to get into because of the licensing, Borrelli said. Other military jobs, such as operating a bulldozer or electrical work, don’t require state certification so the veterans’ experience easily applies.
Corey Harris, community relation and government liaison for the Madison Street Veterans Association and an Army veteran, said this is something he hears often.
“For veterans coming home now, some that are having difficulty getting job, it gives them a leg up,” Harris said. “Whenever there’s a civilian licensure involved, it’s difficult.”
The law will give active duty service members and veterans 90 days after they’re discharged to apply for either license. They will have to show proof of their experience like their military-issued driver’s licenses or medical certificates.
“If they’re smart, they’ll do it while they’re still in,” Borrelli said.
David F. Lucier, president of the Arizona Veterans & Military Alliance, said the new law will reduce the barriers to employment for veterans.
“They’ve been out of the job market for four, six, eight years while serving,” he said. “Re-entering the job market is a huge barrier.
There were at least 12 other bills dealing with veterans’ issues, ranging from a proposed Fallen Hero special license plate to extending the post-9/11 G.I. Bill on a state level. But Borrelli’s bill is the only one so far to make it to the governor.
Some never received committee hearings, while others are stuck in committees. Those include HB2484 by Rep. Mark Cardenas, D-Phoenix, which would give businesses a $2,000 tax break for hiring a veteran and a $4,000 break for hiring a disabled veteran.
“The intent is to pass it this session,” said Cardenas, an Army and National Guard veteran. “I’m doing everything I can to push it through.”
Although it’s held up right now, Lucier said he’s optimistic that Cardenas’ bill still has a chance once the state budget is figured out.
“Having Borrelli’s bill is a great step forward,” Lucier said. “If 2484 makes it across the finish line, it will be outstanding for veterans.”
Cardenas said bills affecting veterans have had more support this session than in previous years because of a bipartisan Veterans Caucus formed in January by lawmakers with military experience. The group focuses on education, employment and health for veterans.
“Even if we got zero bills passed, it would still have been successful because we got Republicans and Democrats to get together and try and solve veterans issues,” Cardenas said.
Harris said he sees the caucus becoming more successful as the freshmen legislators spend more time at the Capitol.
“If you look at the number of bills that made it, we haven’t been that successful,” Harris said. “But the real benefit is we have something completely unique. Everyone agrees we need to take care of veterans.”