Education and career development of veterans received a considerable boost on the first day of the 2014 legislative session today as the State House unanimously passed the Florida GI Bill.
The bill expands the Education Dollars for Duty Program to pay for Florida National Guard members to earn four-year degrees at a state University or College System schools, either through in-class or online courses. It also waives out-of-state tuition and fees for honorably discharged veterans of the United States Armed Forces, the United States Reserve Forces and the National Guard.
Sponsoring HB 7015 was Rep. Jimmie Smith, with support from Rep. Ronald “Doc” Renuart, both Republicans. Smith is a former U.S. Army Staff Sergeant. Renuart is a retired Colonel of the Florida Army National Guard and Chair of the House Veteran and Military Affairs Subcommittee.
“The Florida House proudly stands behind our men and women in uniform,” said Speaker Will Weatherford. “This bill acknowledges the many sacrifices these individuals have made and aims to provide them with a meaningful path to education and employment,”
When signed into law, additional military personnel would automatically be included in employment preferences, adding previously excluded classes of veterans and family members. The GI Bill also extends the current Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) professional licensure-fee waiver program from 24 months to 60 months after an honorable discharge.
“With today’s passage of this important bill, we are on our way to making Florida the number one state in the nation for our veterans, members of the military, and their families,” said Smith. “These individuals have made tremendous sacrifices for our country, and they deserve our respect and gratitude. Florida prides itself on supporting our troops.”
“Today, on the first day of the legislative session, the House proudly passed important legislation to establish Florida as the ‘Welcome Home’ state for our veterans and military personnel. To express our gratitude to those wearing our nation’s uniform, this bill helps make education more affordable, and career success more attainable for all members of our military,” said Renuart.
The bill will create a nonprofit corporation, Florida Is for Veterans, to encourage veterans to stay in Florida, offers employment opportunities, promotes the hiring of veterans, and provides additional relief from the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs.
Some of the funds for the program will come through the sale of commemorative bricks used in the Florida Veterans’ Walk of Honor and the Florida Veterans’ Memorial Garden.