A wide-ranging measure that includes tuition waivers for veterans and an additional $1 million every year to make Florida more attractive to service members is now on its way to the desk of Gov. Rick Scott.
In a National Guard Day event at the Capitol courtyard, the governor awarded service medals to more than 50 veterans. Afterward, Scott promised to approve the “Florida GI Bill” quickly, a bill fashioned after the iconic World War II era measure, writes Jim Turner of the News Service of Florida.
“I’m excited that the House and Senate, they care to make sure that our military can continue their education at a price they can afford,” said Scott, a Navy veteran. “It’s a great bill and I look forward to signing it.”
As part of the “work plan” put forth by House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz, HB 7015 passed unanimously in the Senate Tuesday, after solidly passing the House last week, demonstrating the importance of the bill to the Republican leadership.
The “extraordinarily substantive bill” makes Florida, home to several military bases and veterans, the “most military-friendly state in the nation,” Gaetz told the News Service.
The Florida GI Bill — designed to help veterans transition to civilian life — could cost the state as much as $30 million in the first year. Costs include $7.5 million to purchase land around Tampa’s MacDill Air Force Base, Naval Support Activity Panama City and Jacksonville’s Naval Station Mayport, as well as $12.5 million for upgrading National Guard facilities across the state.
Servicemen and veterans living in Florida are also eligible for in-state college tuition rates under the Congressman C.W. Bill Young Veteran Tuition Waiver Act, which would translate into an $11.7 million hit for state colleges and universities.
“We have heard from military communities across our state who let us know Florida can do more to celebrate the service and sacrifice of our military and veterans,” bill co-sponsor Sen. Thad Altman told the News Service. “The Florida GI Bill is a product of this input and shows our gratitude to those who have bravely served our country and our communities.”
The proposal also allocates $1 million annually for marketing to veterans, and another $300,000 to establish the non-profit Florida Is For Veterans, Inc., as part of the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs.
In addition, veterans, reservists and members of the Florida National Guard will get hiring preferences in local government jobs, and exempt spouses and dependents from the requirement of getting a Florida driver’s license before working or enrolling in a public school in the state.