JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. —
Nearly three decades ago, Charlie Davis was in the Mediterranean Sea aboard the USS Saratoga.
Davis, of Webb City, served in the Navy as an aviation electronics technician from 1983 to 1989 — a tenure that included two tours on the USS Saratoga through the Mediterranean Sea and another trip from Norfolk, Va., to San Francisco on the USS Independence.
“You get down where the Atlantic and the Pacific meet, there’s differences in the temperature of the waters,” he said. “When that water meets, it’s turmoil. We were locked down for two weeks — all the doors were shut. Aircraft carriers don’t list, but we were listing 23 degrees.”
Now, some 30 years later, Davis is serving in a different way: as a state representative who chairs the 18-member Missouri House Veterans Committee. Davis, who was elected in 2010, has risen fast on the committee — starting during his first term as vice chairman and assuming the chairmanship at the beginning of his second term.
“It gives me a perspective about what the military goes through,” Davis said of his time in the Navy. Despite being 300 miles away from battle, he said, he believes his experience in the military helps him identify with other veterans. “I’ve never been there, but I can have sympathy because I think I can understand.”
In his first year as chairman of the committee, Davis said, he was able to move through all five priorities presented to him by the U.S. Department of Defense: passing legislation easing the procedure for service members to vote while they are deployed, allowing educational credits for courses service members take, establishing a Veterans Treatment Court, changing some child custody laws, and allowing service members to receive licensure in Missouri for skills they learned while serving in the armed forces.
“We did it all in one year,” Davis said.
This year, Davis is looking to change the law to allow out-of-state military doctors and pharmacists to practice in Missouri veterans hospitals — like the one that is being built in Springfield.
“It’s pretty simple: If they’re working at a veterans hospital, they can prescribe drugs,” he said.
Davis also is backing legislation that would allow Missourians to donate money to the Missouri National Guard Foundation with their tax returns. The foundation, which just broke ground for a building in Jefferson City, will be privately funded and will aim to help service members and their families cope with post-traumatic stress disorder.
“The Ike Skelton Resiliency Center is going to be a place where they have psychologists that can help National Guard members, reservists and families,” Davis said. “It’s all private dollars, going to show we don’t always need public tax dollars to help these people. We can get private dollars as long as we give them the opportunity.”
In addition, the Legislature is considering measures that would allow the adjutant general of the Missouri National Guard to use funds from the privately funded Missouri Military Family Relief Trust Fund to provide service members returning from a deployment up to $3,000 in assistance for bills that they may have missed, and another bill that would allow members of the National Guard’s Civil Support Team to use emergency lights if they are called up in the event of a nuclear, biological or chemical attack.
Maj. Gen. Steve Danner, adjutant general of the Missouri National Guard, praised the work Davis has done as committee chairman.
“He continually goes above and beyond in connecting with service members from all branches of service so he is current on all military issues,” Danner said. In particular, he praised the work of Davis and the General Assembly last year in passing the Show Me Heroes Education Fund, which helps provide tuition assistance to Missouri National Guard members.
“Rep. Davis has been pivotal for veterans and their families this session as he is sponsoring legislation to extend the time limit families can be helped through the Missouri Family Relief Fund,” Danner said. “In addition, he continues to support efforts to allow military members and their spouses who have professional licenses from other states to be licensed in Missouri.”
The General Assembly has already passed legislation that would assist service members who are considering campaigns for public office. Currently, they can file for office with an affidavit. What they cannot currently do is send someone in their place when it comes time to draw a number for ballot placement. The bill changing that is on Gov. Jay Nixon’s desk for approval.
Davis said people often want to do a lot for veterans, but he is wary of doing too much in a way that might create a “special class” for service members upon their return.
“It has taken me three years to really understand some things I don’t want to do,” Davis said. “For myself as a veteran, I don’t want special treatment or to be exempted from all these taxes that are charged to the average citizen. I want to be a contributing member of society. I don’t want to be exempted from property taxes. I want to support my local schools and make sure our kids have a quality education.”
Davis, a Republican, said he has a good working relationship with Secretary of State Jason Kander, a Democrat and an Afghanistan war veteran, who is backing legislation this year that would waive fees for veterans associated with registering corporations, limited liability companies, nonprofit corporations or partnerships.
“The skills we learn in the military translate to every field, but it’s sometimes difficult to communicate that to employers,” Kander said. “By making it a little easier for reservists and veterans to start their own businesses, we can help make sure we are properly utilizing the talent they develop in the military when they come home.”
“WE HAVE A LEGISLATURE that supports our veterans, and that’s pretty evident when you look at our vote totals,” said state Rep. Charlie Davis.