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Ohio officials push back on Air Force family support ‘report card’

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (right) and Maj. Gen. John C. Harris Jr. (second from right) greet troops assigned to the 1st Battalion, 145th Armored Regiment on Sunday following a call-of-duty ceremony at the Canton Memorial Civic Center. (GateHouse Media Ohio correspondent / Bob Rossiter/TNS)
September 19, 2021

State and local officials are starting to push back on a Department of the Air Force report card that last week placed Ohio in the middle of the pack for support of military families.

Rick Perales, a Greene County commissioner and a former state lawmaker, believes those who compiled the Air Force report misconstrued Ohio statutes, particularly when it comes to accommodating military spouses who move to Ohio from other states with professional licenses.

The report card, Perales said in an interview, “does not do us justice.”

Gov. Mike DeWine’s office has asked the Air Force to revisit its assessment.

The Air Force report, titled “Support of Military Families 2021,” grades states by colors. “Green” states are seen as “highly supportive of military families,” while states graded “yellow” — like Ohio — are deemed only “moderately supportive.” Red states are regarded as “least supportive.”

Perales took particular umbrage on the “yellow” grade Ohio received on professional license reciprocity. He was a principal lawmaker behind Ohio Senate Bill 7, which DeWine signed at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in January 2020.

The bill requires state occupational licensing agencies to issue temporary licenses or certificates to members of the military and spouses who are professionally licensed in another jurisdiction and have moved to Ohio for military duty. Such reciprocity should make it easier for those spouses to take up work in their chosen fields in Ohio.

Perhaps confusingly, more than one Pentagon-related “report card” grades the states on these issues, sometimes using the same colors in different contexts. Perales has worked with a U.S. Department of Defense liaison to the states, James Rickel, on addressing defense industry concerns such as license reciprocity.

In an interview Tuesday, Rickel declined to comment on the Air Force report. But he said a separate DOD report gives Ohio a green grade on reciprocity and other issues. (In the context of the DOD “Military State Policy Source” report card, “green” indicates that a policy has become state law while “blue” says a bill has been introduced.)

“They’re doing a superior job. I think they’re doing a great job,” Rickel said of Ohio.

Rickel pointed as well to Ohio’s green or blue ratings on other issues, including in-state tuition continuity, virtual school enrollment, licensing compacts and other areas.

“You’re going to see Ohio is green or working on a lot of issues,” Rickel said. Issues not rated as “green” often are the subject of bills working through the Ohio General Assembly, he said.

“He will tell you that Ohio is smoking when it comes to getting this stuff done,” Perales said. “At least in the top five of the country.”

A message seeking comment was sent to Michael Coltrin, the Air Force assistant deputy, force support and family, and another Air Force contact.

Perales points to other state provisions that aim to support military families, including a bill from state Rep. Cindy Abrams, R-Harrison. The bill requires that local children’s services offices be notified if an investigation of child abuse or neglect involves a parent, guardian or custodian serving in the military.

“Now, it’s going to be reported to the proper authorities,” Perales said.

Also signed into law last year: House Bill 287, which will allow reciprocity for Medicaid home and community-based service waivers for active-duty military family members with special needs when families move to Ohio for military assignments.

A new bill introduced by Ohio Sen. Niraj Antani, R-Miami Twp., would require state employees to determine a citizen’s veteran status in routine interactions — another need identified by the DOD.

And lawmakers have long noted that retirement pay received for service on military active duty or the National Guard or Reserves, as well as pay received by surviving spouses, has been exempt from the Ohio income tax since 2008.

Joe Zeis, DeWine’s senior adviser on aerospace and defense matters, said Tuesday that the state has sought to address areas of concern to the both the Air Force and the DOD. He maintains that the DOD “can confidently place new missions in Ohio.”

“In a word, we want to be the best for military families,” said Zeis, a former Air Force colonel.

He said the governor’s office has asked the Air Force to revisit its assessment. The Air Force has made no commitment, but a briefing is scheduled on the matter, he said.

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(c) 2021 the Dayton Daily News

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