Just a stone’s throw from the ocean, Bill Connell is known best for serving up hot dogs to passersby at his Surf Dog stand on a sleepy corner in Carpinteria.
But on Thursday, Connell served up a major victory for veterans who are small-business owners — just like him.
For the past 16 years, Connell has been pushing back against the State Board of Equalization to enforce a law that’s been on the books for more than 100 years.
The new Senate bill, recently signed into law by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, ensures that disabled veterans without a permanent place of business who peddle on the street are exempt from sales tax.
The history behind Thursday’s celebration began when Connell served in Germany during the Vietnam War, and was scheduled to rotate to Southeast Asia when the Paris peace talks started.
“I was very, very lucky,” he said, adding that some of his friends and classmates never came back. Some of Connell’s personal frustration was channeled into boxing, and he was eventually named heavyweight champion of Europe. But that title came with a cost.
“I got whacked around pretty good in the ears, and had a little hearing loss,” he said. “Nothing major.”
Connell said there are veterans coming home now from combat who are injured — mentally and physically — and many end up unemployed or underemployed.
“This little bill will help all of them so they can start a small business and increase revenue streams,” he said. “It makes a man feel really good if he can go out and make a living.”
It’s known in Sacramento as the “Hot Dog Man” bill, and Sen. Jeff Denham, R-Merced, presented Connell with a framed copy of the resolution.
Denham said it had not only been a legislative battle, but a personal issue.
“We have a debt of gratitude to those who have served our country, especially those who have been disabled in combat. This was an issue that should have been resolved decades ago,” he said. “We had everyone from the tax man to local enforcement trying to follow what their interpretation of the law was. We felt it was very black and white.”
Scores of people lined up after the presentation for free hot dogs from the stand and a cake adorned with an American flag, and to celebrate with Connell, who was surrounded by politicians and supporters.
“What Bill did was remarkable,” said Assemblyman Pedro Nava, D-Santa Barbara. “Shame on us if we ever turn our back on the men and women who honored their commitments. All he was trying to do was get the law that was enforced on the books. … He never backed down.”
— Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at email@example.com.