No In-State Tuition Waivers for Florida Student Veterans, Yet

student_vetAmong the handful of veterans’ bills considered by Florida lawmakers this year was legislation that would have granted in-state tuition rates to all veterans using the Post 9-11 G-I Bill.

The lower, in-state tuition waiver was a top priority for Florida student veterans.

State Rep. Kathleen Peters of South Pasadena sponsored the House bill.

“The senate wouldn’t hear it,” Peters said. “I’m extremely disappointed about it. The veterans’ organizations are upset about it. The veterans’ school organizations are upset about it.”

Peters has two theories why in-state tuition for student veterans failed. She thinks her bill was hurt when it was combined with a committee bill. Also, she said concerns about cost could have killed it.

“My personal belief, the House’s belief was that waiver that fiscal impact is something we shouldn’t be concerned about and we should make sure our veterans have the opportunity to come to Florida.” Peters said.

Only about a dozen states have enacted laws to make sure GI Bill students don’t get charged out-of-state tuition. But the benefit is becoming a draw as more young men and women leave the military and begin using their GI Bill education benefits..

“They (student veterans) will definitely go to places like Texas, Virginia that have those opportunities for them,” said Ray Mollison, an Army veteran and president of the University of South Florida Student Veterans Association.

Mollison grew up in Florida so in-state tuition is not an issue for him, but it is for many of his colleagues.

“It’s definitely a setback,” Mollison said. “It kind of surprised us all, but there has been steady progress that has been made with the bill.”

He’s confident that instate tuition for vets will pass next year. He plans to rally the 1700 veterans at the USF Tampa campus and others to “bring a big voice” to be heard next time in Tallahassee.

Rep. Peters is optimistic about next year too.

“I will ask the speaker to leave it as a stand-alone bill,” Peters said. “Florida is the most veteran friendly state in the country and we have to keep working to make it even stronger and better.”

Veterans’ Court Authorized by Florida Lawmakers

Veterans Treatment Court. Photo courtesy of the VA.

Florida is home to more than 1.6 million veterans. So, it’s no surprise that Florida lawmakers passed several bills this session that benefit military veterans and active duty service members.

Among the bills agreed upon was the “T. Patt Maney Veterans Treatment Intervention Act.”

Named in honor of Okaloosa County Judge Maney, the bill authorizes each judicial circuit to set up a Veterans’ Court or program to handle the cases of veterans with psychological problems like substance abuse and PTSD or traumatic brain injury as a result of their military service.

“Under the program a judge may sentence these veterans and service members in a way that addresses the severity of the condition through services targeted to the individuals’ needs,” said Steve Murray, spokesman for the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs. “It adds both misdemeanor and felony pretrial intervention programs as eligible treatment programs.”

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Purple Heart Day: Florida Sets Aside Aug. 7 to Honor Vets

The Florida Legislature has approved three veteran related bills this session including one that sets aside August 7th each year as Purple Heart Day in Florida.

The legislation does not establish an official government holiday, so state agencies, offices and the courts will remain open. What Purple Heart Day is meant to do: raise awareness and honor veterans who are wounded or have been killed in battle.

The second bill allows veterans to have early registration at public universities that allow early registration for any other group of students such as athletes. Veteran students will get the same priority.

“This will help insure that our veterans will get the necessary courses before their federal benefits run out,” said Steve Murray, spokesman for the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs.

The third bill allows veterans to earn some college credits from public colleges and universities for some of their previous military training.

“That training will be evaluated by the American Council on Education,” Murray said.

The bills will soon be on the governor’s desk for action. Gov. Rick Scott served in the U.S. Navy so it’s a pretty good bet that he will sign these three bills into law especially since the legislation was backed by the Florida Dept. of Veterans’ Affairs, a state agency that he controls.

Third Veterans Court to Open in South Florida

Image by Salvatore Vuono (Free Digital

Florida will soon be getting another Veterans Court, this one is scheduled to open this spring in Broward County. Chief Judge Peter Weinstein is leading the effort according to the Sun Sentinel:

“These soldiers are coming home to rebuild their lives and some will have difficulties. Often the horrors of what they saw at war can end up playing a heavy role in their conduct,” said Weinstein. “They served this country and we want to treat them with respect and get them the help they need. We have tremendous resources to help to put them back on the right track. We want this to be a therapeutic court.”

A planning session was held in December, and Weinstein has visited the Palm Beach Veterans Court, which opened almost 15 months ago. In March, the Miami-Dade Drug Court launched a similar specialized track for veterans.

The Florida lawmakers are considering legislation that would allow the establishment of a Veterans Court in each judicial circuit. The Sun Sentinel reports that the bill was unanimously passed in House Appropriations Committee and similar bills are being considered in the Senate.

Purple Heart Day: Florida Wants Wounded Remembered

The Florida Department of Veterans Affairs is supporting two modest bills for the 2012 legislative session that don’t require any state money.

If passed, House Bill 469 would designate August 7th as Purple Heart Day in Florida.

“August 7th back in 1782 was when Gen. George Washington established the Purple Heart back in the Revolutionary War,” said Steve Murray with the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Florida is late in recognizing military veterans who were wounded or killed in combat.

“Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, Nevada are just a few of the states that have been out there,” said Murray. “So, this is not Florida unique, but it’s important enough that we want to encourage folks to honor our wounded warriors.”

The legislation would call for commemorations, however, it would not make August 7th an “official holiday” so state workers would not get the day off.

The other bill, Florida Senate Bill 94, would give  student veterans an advantage already extended to some student athletes. The legislation would allow early course registration for veterans, especially those using the new post 9-11 GI Bill, to help them complete their education and get the required courses necessary before their financial aid runs out.

Murray said it’s important that both bills are revenue neutral because there’s little chance of legislation that costs money passing in these tight budget times.

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