- Posted May 12, 2014 by
St Paul, Minnesota
Minnesota Will Have a Woman Veteran License Plate
Rep Jerry Newton, the chief author in the House, ushered the bill through four committees: State Government Finance and Veterans Affairs; Transportation Policy; Transportation Finance; and Ways and Means. The committee hearings gave the opportunity for testimony by women veterans. As a result, several representatives championed the bill. Signing on to support the bill before the floor vote were: Rep Ron Erhardt, Rep Jeff Howe, Rep Mary Sawatzky, Rep Bob Dettmer, Rep Barb Yarusso, Rep Ron Erhardt, Rep Sandra Masin, Rep Yvonne Selcer, Rep Mike Sundin, Rep Jason Metsa, Rep Karen Clark and Rep Connie Bernardy . Rep Frank Hornstein became an eloquent supporter in committee process as well. On the House Floor, vocal support from Rep Dettmer and Rep Howe cemented the final vote after its introduction by Rep Newton.
The Women Veterans Initiative (WVI) Chair, Trista Matacastillo, was overwhelmed when she announced to her fellow veterans “it is unanimous!” “The House support was fantastic, we felt very honored.” commented Jeri Longfellow (Col Brevet).
The Minnesota Senate was a separate battle led by chief author, Senator Alice Johnson. The Senate version of the bill went through 2 committee hearings with State Department and Veterans Division Committee and Finance Committee. The initial opposition to the Senate Bill was that too many different MN License Plates are already in existence. Another special interest plate could open the door for more organizations. There are approximately 22 different service related plates to choose from based on eligibility. The testimony from Minnesota’s veteran women persuaded committee members that there is general public assumption that a veteran plate belongs to a man.
“When I found out that there are over 29,000 women veterans in Minnesota, I realized that a woman veteran plate was important. Women veterans are in the shadows, invisible, and often socially excluded in veteran recognition. My brother is a veteran and he supports this plate. He told me that ‘you women veterans are like unicorns-there are stories of women veterans in the community but I don’t see them.’ After I stopped laughing, I realized that I had a commitment to this process,” commented Jill Troutner who is a West Point graduate and Army veteran.
The Senate Floor Vote on May 5th, 2014, started with chief author, Senator Johnson, introducing the bill. Her co-authors included: Sen Susan Kent, Sen David Tomassoni, Sen Kent Eken, and Sen Julie Rosen. What Sen Johnson and her co-authors faced on the Senate Floor was an unexpected fury. The skirmish started with Sen Carrie Ruud’s opening salvo that her mother would send lightning down to strike her if she voted for the bill. Sen Dan Hall unleashed arguments that went from veterans not having the courage to stop the bill, that a woman veteran license plate takes choice away from women, and that every woman veteran who wanted a license plate would be forced into that plate.
The reactions in the gallery from the MN Women Veteran Initiative were incredulous. “I looked over at my battle buddies who rank from Colonel to Specialist and asked ‘Was I just called a coward?’” said Jill Troutner. “As far as the ‘taking away a woman’s choice argument,’ all I can say is that if I were awarded the Silver Star and could be eligible for that plate or a Woman Veteran License Plate-it is a no brainer. It is silly to say that we are forcing one choice when there are 18 veteran plates based on eligibility and four others that show support for troops. It smacks of antiquated fear mongering and misinformation."
Speaking for the bill and wading through the muck were Senators Jeff Hayden and John Marty. Senator Johnson stood her ground refusing to take any action to jeopardize the bill. Finally, after a tense hour on the Senate Floor, a vote of 54 in favor with 9 opposed was reached.
“My Senator, Warren Limmer, spoke for us and voted in favor despite his initial hesitation for another license plate,” stated Jill Troutner. “I felt that the opposition was disturbingly hypocritical and out of touch. It saddens me that Sen Ruud feels her mother was treated and recognized equally when the history shows otherwise. Sen Hayden spoke to that and was brilliant. When the final vote came, I realized that there were plenty of cooler and calmer heads on the Senate Floor- and they prevailed.”
MN Governor Mark Dayton signed the bill into law on Friday, May 9, 2014. “There is still work to be done,” commented WVI Chair Trista Matascastillo. “We will work with Departments of Transportation and Veterans Affairs to design the plate and get the word out to women veterans when it is available. We are so grateful to the support we have received from the legislature and the veteran community. I really believe that this license plate will bring a visibility to the 29,000 plus women veterans in Minnesota.”