POLITICIANS are often accused of wrapping themselves in the U.S. flag for self-aggrandizement. That critique could be made of two bills in the Legislature designed to incentivize hiring of military veterans.
Unless you think that soldiers find Oklahoma — with its strong military presence and citizens' proud history of military service — a hotbed of hippie intolerance, there's no need for government policies that attempt to influence private businesses to hire more veterans.
A review of employment data justifies skepticism. Rep. Elise Hall, R-Oklahoma City, notes the unemployment rate for Oklahoma veterans in 2012 was just 4.1 percent, according to the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission. Nationally, veterans' unemployment is 7 percent. Furthermore, the unemployment rate for all Oklahomans at the end of 2012 was 5.1 percent.
This shows that Oklahoma veterans are actually slightly more likely to be employed than the average citizen, suggesting that any state incentives to encourage veteran hiring are a solution in search of a problem. But this hasn't stopped lawmakers from acting otherwise.
Rep. Eric Proctor, D-Tulsa, filed legislation to require that veterans represent at least 10 percent of new hires at companies getting Oklahoma Quality Jobs Act incentive money. Put simply, Proctor wanted a quota system. Companies that didn't abide by it would be denied incentives they would otherwise get. Proctor's bill passed in a subcommittee but died without a hearing in the full committee.
Hall filed another measure, which easily passed on the House floor, increasing the Quality Jobs Act benefit rate for companies with at least 10 percent of their gross annual payroll going to veterans.
Proctor and other Democrats say they're angered that Republicans “stole” their idea. Apparently, helping veterans wasn't as important as partisan credit. But their complaint ignores the fact that the bills took very different approaches. Proctor chose to wave a stick at Oklahoma employers. Hall offered a carrot. This is a meaningful distinction, although the need to enact either bill is debatable.
Hall argued Proctor's plan was unworkable in parts of Oklahoma. She said veterans' unemployment in her district is just 3.3 percent. She said some rural areas may lack enough local veterans for an employer to meet the Proctor quota. But this also suggests that many employers won't be able to qualify for the extra benefits offered in Hall's bill. How is that reasonable?
Ironically, the man who prompted Proctor to file his bill is an example of why this type of legislation is unnecessary. After serving in Iraq and receiving two Purple Heart medals, Marine Corps Sgt. Shane Hannaford returned to Tulsa in 2005 and initially struggled to find a job. He applied to work as a bank teller, cable layer, security officer and for some minimum wage jobs, without success.
But Hannaford's story doesn't end there. He then founded his own business. Today, Hannaford owns a general contracting firm, a real estate brokerage and property management companies overseeing 80 properties. His story illustrates why it is so unseemly for Oklahoma politicians to compete over who can be the most paternalistic to veterans.
Men and women who can survive a war zone with bullets flying don't need the government to hold their hand during a stateside job search. Fortunately, it's unlikely many veterans noticed this patronizing debate.
In Oklahoma, they're too busy working for a living!