By Tim Krohn
Free Press Staff Writer
— Most people might assume there is a clear and strong process that gives a hiring preference for qualified veterans applying for government jobs.
But veterans looking for those jobs said they found the reality is there is minimal preference. On Friday, local veterans were at the Capitol watching as Gov. Mark Dayton signed legislation aimed at closing loopholes and strengthening veteran hiring preferences.
“It’s a good day for disabled veterans and veterans in Minnesota,” said Mankato veteran Tom McLaughlin.
McLaughlin and other vets, including Minnesota State University students and graduates, had testified at legislative hearings earlier in the session at the invitation of Sen. Al DeKruif, R-Madison Lake, who sponsored some of the legislation.
Joining McLaughlin at the bill signing were MSU students and disabled veterans Curtis Shotliff and Jason McNamara as well as MSU grad and veteran Luke Weinandt.
“We have unemployment among veterans of 22.9 percent and it’s going to go higher as more come back (from the Middle East),” DeKruif said.
“Many states have much better hiring preferences and it’s showing up.”
The package of bills signed Friday — most of which passed unanimously in the Legislature — will, among other things:
n Increase the preference “points” given to qualified veterans who pass pre-employment tests for any state job. “If they passed the test, they (now) get 5 points for veterans and 10 points for disabled veterans,” DeKruif said. “We upped that to 10 and 15 points.”
n Tighten up rules that require employers hold the jobs of veterans who are deployed and ensure they get that job back when they return. The state of Minnesota was effectively given a waiver by the federal government that didn’t require them to hold veterans’ jobs. The new legislation requires state agencies to hold veterans’ jobs.
n Allow counties and private companies to set up hiring programs that give preference to veterans. Current law barred private businesses and county governments from doing that in the past.
n Give much higher “absolute preference” to 30 percent disabled veterans seeking state jobs. The rules will allow their hiring in a non-competitive basis.
McLaughlin said many of the veteran hiring preference laws were weakened in the early 1970s. The longtime veteran advocate said support at the state Capitol is much stronger now than decades ago.
“We visited with our area legislators while we were up there. Everyone was very welcoming. It’s a lot different than when I was going up there in the ’70s.”
Weinandt, who was recently hired by the Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans in Mankato, said his work on changing the laws grew out of his own experiences and those of a friend.
“I was applying for these state jobs I was well qualified for, and I wasn’t even getting calls back.” He said he learned that if other “protected class” people — such as females and minorities — were applying for the job, they often had higher preference under current practices.
Weinandt was particularly motivated after the experience of his close friend veteran Mike McLaughlin, who is Tom McLaughlin’s son.
Mike McLaughlin had served a year-long internship with the Department of Natural Resources and applied for the job when it opened up.
“He was well qualified, he’d been doing it, training in it,” Weinandt said. “He lost the job to a female who had worked in a bakery the last five years. It was given to another protected class over a veteran,” Weinandt said. “This (legislation) evens the playing field for veterans.”