2012 Session: Veterans Legislation to Track

Florida Veterans Affairs Executive Director Mike Prendergast.
TAMPA (2012-1-12) -

Florida lawmakers are considering about 70 different bills that affect the state’s 1.6 million veterans. Some of the bills are “feel good” or advocacy legislation like the one that establishes August 7th as Purple Heart Day (SB276) and a few bills are aimed at directly helping student veterans.

Florida Department of Veterans Affairs executive director Mike Prendergast is tracking two key omnibus bills: Senate Bill 922, sponsored by Sen. Mike Bennett, and House Bill 977, sponsored by Rep. Bryan Nelson.

“The senate bill will give student veterans an advantage already extended to student athletes and the legislation would allow for early course registration,” Prendergast said. “The reason for that is the GI Bill, the modern GI Bill, has a time certain specified. They only have 36 months benefits.”

Another student veterans’ bill, SB164 sponsored by Sen. Mike Fasano, waives residency requirements giving all student veterans “in-state” tuition rates. Prendergast said estimates show that would cost state colleges and universities more than $11 million.

“We’ve got to look for opportunities to take care of veterans appropriately but not do it in such a way that it’s going to cost the taxpayers considerably more at a time when we just don’t have the money to go around,” Prendergast said.

The tuition waiver was wrapped into one of the omnibus bills, but it could be amended or eliminated. Several student veterans’ organizations in Florida are lobbying to get the waiver.

But Prendergast said active-duty service members assigned to Florida already can get an in-state tuition rate and have the opportunity to apply for residency status by getting a Florida drivers’ license, registering to vote and establishing their residency through their military personnel office.

Senate Bill 138 which is aimed at helping military veterans in the criminal justice system has been included in the SB922 omnibus bill.

“It allows counties to establish programs to divert a veteran who is charged with a criminal offense into an appropriate treatment program if they suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury or substance abuse disorders,” Prendergast said.

At this time, his department is neutral on the bill because Prendergast said the House and Senate versions differ and some judges have concerns.

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