The Foreign Service Journal, September 2022

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | SEPTEMBER 2022 59 State-Level Advocacy: Emerging Issues and Progress AFSA ON THE HILL | BY KIM GREENPLATE While I usually focus my col- umns on Congress and our federal advocacy, here I will highlight AFSA’s state-level efforts. With the hiring of a policy analyst, Sean O’Gorman, this past year, AFSA is bet- ter positioned than ever to engage more state and even local legislatures on its priorities. We have primarily focused on states where we hear and know most active- duty and retired members of the Foreign Service reside but seek to expand our advo- cacy work to more states. You may remember AFSA’s advocacy related to in-state tuition eligibility for Foreign Service members and their dependents in Virginia. In 2019, a bill was signed into law to lower the FS residency requirement to 90 days for in-state tuition rate eligibility in that state. We are grateful to Virginia Delegate Paul Krizek (and his staff) for championing the issue and sponsoring the bill. AFSA’s efforts on this issue culminated in pas- sage of the Foreign Service Families Act at the federal level, which allows mem- bers of the Foreign Service, including their spouses and dependents, to be eligible for in-state tuition rates in their state of domicile. As we’ve tracked state legislation and its implica- tions for Foreign Service members over the past few years, issues ranging from the taxability of public ser- vice pensions to enrollment eligibility at certain public schools have emerged as potential areas of focus for AFSA’s advocacy. Members are especially interested in addressing state-level inequi- ties between the Foreign Service and the military. For example, AFSA supported a Wisconsin bill exempting Foreign Service pension payments from taxation that was designed to entice more retirees to the state. We wrote a letter of support and worked with the sponsor to find a path forward in the state legisla- ture. Unfortunately, it did not become law this year, but AFSA continues to advocate for passage of this bill and similar ones. The pandemic exacer- bated some inequities and brought about further com- plications for those in the Foreign Service. For example, with pandemic restrictions in place, many members could not complete normal home leave tasks, such as renewing a driver’s license. Recently, both Virginia and Mary- land—states with substantial Foreign Service popula- tions—provided extensions for federal employees who were unable to renew their licenses. As of July 1, 2022, Virginia driver’s license validity was extended from three to six years beyond the expiration date for U.S. government personnel serving over- seas, including members of the Foreign Service, their spouses and dependents. Likewise, as of Oct. 1, Maryland will offer tempo- rary renewals (up to two years) for driver’s licenses or identification cards for mem- bers of the Foreign Service, whether serving overseas or domestically, and their families. AFSA’s advocacy team is actively pursuing a similar license renewal exten- sion policy in the District of Columbia. Similar bills have surfaced in other state legislatures across the country. We have seen bills focused on overseas driver’s license renewals in New Hampshire and Nebraska, as well as the introduction of a residence homestead tax exemption for Foreign Service retirees living in Texas. Even though these bills have not yet become law, their existence is proof that these issues are sparking conversations in different states because they are important to members of the Foreign Service. At the local level, AFSA hears from members about the lack of access to edu- cational institutions—such as Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Tech- nology in Fairfax County—for Foreign Service dependents because of their parents’ or guardians’ overseas service. We are working with the Virginia state legislature to open access for Foreign Service dependents to this magnet school and other Governor’s Schools across the state, which are already accessible to dependents of active-duty members of the military. Further, we hope to add greater detail to state-by- state policies in AFSA’s annual tax guide and advo- cate for change in states where unfavorable policies remain in place. We continue to encour- age members to reach out to AFSA with state and local policy concerns, as members are often the first to alert us of issues. n AFSA Policy Analyst Sean O’Gorman can be reached at ogorman@afsa. org. AFSA/JOAQUINSOSA