JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon signed several bills Thursday that benefit members of the military, including giving an edge to firms owned by disabled veterans that bid for state contracts and providing scholarships to children of retired troops.
The Democratic governor held signing ceremonies just ahead of Memorial Day at state veterans homes in Cameron, Warrensburg and Mount Vernon. Nixon said military members had earned the benefits in the legislation through their service. Most of the new laws take effect Aug. 28.
"Generation after generation, Missourians in the military have answered the call of service to the nation and helped protect our freedom," he said.
Children of service members who move to Missouri within a year of retirement can qualify for the A-plus Schools program if they meet academic and community service requirements. The program, currently available to graduates of certain high schools, covers tuition, textbooks and fees at state community colleges.
The legislation signed by Nixon also requires governments that competitively bid contracts to give bonus points to companies with a majority owner who became disabled during his or her military service. Current law gives a preference in contracts to companies owned by disabled veterans if their proposal is at least equal to those from competitors.
Another plan approved by Nixon makes it easier for overseas voters to cast ballots. The voting provisions were needed to comply with federal requirements for the November election and will affect anyone living aboard.
Under the new law, local election officials will send ballots at least 45 days before the election with the option to send them by e-mail. Applications for absentee ballots and other election information also could be sent electronically.
Currently, Missouri residents who are out of the U.S. request an absentee ballot by mail, fax or in person. Election officials send ballots through the mail at least 42 days before an election, and voters return them by mail or in person.
The new law does not change the ability of troops in combat zones to fax or scan and e-mail their completed ballots. Others would still have to mail their completed ballots.
Sponsoring Rep. Scott Largent, R-Clinton, said the election changes would let Missouri hold up its responsibilities to residents living overseas.
Missouri National Guard will be allowed to set up an academy for students at risk of not graduating from traditional high schools. The federal government would fund 75 percent of the program, and a new foundation would raise the rest, according to the governor's office. The plan took effect when Nixon signed the legislation. Missouri ran a similar program from 1999 to 2002.
Another approved measure bars the selling or auctioning of military medals held by the state as unclaimed property. The state treasurer's office, which keeps unclaimed property and supported the change, has said it has more than 100 medals.