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KUNR Today: Wildfire response package clears US House, Nevada hiring more veterans for state jobs

Smoke rises from a forest of trees as a helicopter drops water on a hot spot while battling the McKinney Fire.
Noah Berger
A helicopter drops water on a hot spot while battling the McKinney Fire on Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2022, in Klamath National Forest, Calif.

Read or listen to news headlines for Wednesday, August 3, 2022.

Wildfire response package clears US House
By Will Walkey, Mountain West News Bureau

The U.S. House of Representatives approved a massive wildfire and drought response package last week that would affect federal firefighters’ salaries and benefits. The legislation would extend the current federal firefighter pay of at least $20 an hour, which was set to expire next year. It would also provide mental healthcare, housing stipends and other benefits.

Democratic Rep. Joe Neguse of Colorado is a chief sponsor of the bill. He said during floor debate that more money needs to be spent to meet the modern demands of climate change.

Countless constituents come to us grieving the loss of their homes but also seeking the resources that they deserve from the federal government,” he said. “We have a duty to provide our constituents with the support that they need to rebuild and to recover.”

The package comprises more than 40 bills on topics including forest management and tribal access to clean water, and it passed largely on party lines. Republicans say the measures won’t deliver what they promise and argue firefighter pay increases will actually result in layoffs if the forest service doesn’t get more money from Congress. The bill now moves to the Senate, where its future is uncertain.

Nevada hiring more veterans for state jobs
By Lucretia Cunningham

The Nevada Department of Administration is reporting a spike in military veteran hiring for state jobs, citing a quarterly hiring increase of almost 10 times since 2015. That’s when the state established the Veteran Hiring Program within the department to recruit and support veterans, and now military spouses, throughout the hiring process.

Doug Williams is the state veterans coordinator. He said the transition into state service can be fairly smooth for veterans, who have specialized experience in roles like nursing, information technology, or other health and human services.

“Because of the critical nature of many of those positions with the state, it’s absolutely important for us to be able to leverage the veterans’ skills and experiences, and what they bring to the table,” Williams said.

There are about 1,100 military veterans working in state jobs now, and that number is expected to grow. In 2019, Gov. Steve Sisolak established the Veteran Peer Mentor Program for state-employed veterans to receive mentorship and professional development opportunities.

Democrats push Department of Veterans Affairs to provide abortion access
By Lucretia Cunningham

Some Democratic senators are urging the Department of Veterans Affairs to change its rules on providing abortion and abortion-related services for veterans. Currently, there is a rule prohibiting the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) from providing abortions and abortion counseling as part of its medical benefits package. U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto is one of almost 30 lawmakers pushing VA Secretary Denis McDonough to change that.

The group cites verbiage in the Veterans Health Care Eligibility Reform Act of 1996, and McDonough’s testimony to the House Veterans Affairs Committee last year when he said the rule is “available to change,” and is a “regulatory matter.” McDonough says that the VA has coordinated with the Department of Justice to ensure the VHA continues to provide life-saving services and access to contraception for veterans in their care.

Geothermal plant wins appeal but pauses Nevada construction
By The Associated Press

The developer of a geothermal power plant facing legal challenges in Nevada has agreed to temporarily suspend construction of the project. The move came just hours after a U.S. appeals court refused Monday morning to halt the project that environmentalists and a Nevada tribe say would harm an endangered toad and destroy sacred hot springs. Power plant developer Ormat Nevada, the government and lawyers for the opponents filed the new agreement in federal court in Reno later Monday. It suspends construction for at least 30 days - and perhaps until the end of the year - to better assess potential harm to the toad, which was declared endangered in April.

As a note of disclosure, Ormat is a financial supporter of KUNR. 

Rebuilt O’Brien Middle School officially opens in North Valleys
ByJose Davila IV

The rebuilt O’Brien Middle School in North Valleys, Nev., officially opened with a ribbon-cutting ceremony Monday. The new building will allow sixth graders to join seventh and eighth graders on campus. Money from the 2016 capital funding ballot initiative paid for the new construction. As a part of the changes, the school has a new entrance off Silver Lake Road and new athletic fields will be built on the site of the old building.

Jose Davila IV is a corps member for Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project.

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