Veterans living in the state of Florida now have additional benefits under a comprehensive bill signed by Gov. Rick Scott.
On Monday, Scott signed the “Florida GI” bill at the National Guard Armory in Panama City. The bill offers a tuition break to honorably discharged veterans regardless of when they moved to the state.
The GI Bill creates the Congressman C.W. Bill Young Veteran Tuition Waiver Program, allowing state universities, state colleges, career centers, and technical centers to waive out-of-state tuition fees for honorably discharged veterans. This tuition break will cost an estimated $12 million.
The bill also includes college scholarships for National Guard members and sets aside money to renovate armories and acquire land adjacent to existing military installations in the state. It also waives professional licensing fees up to five years after a veteran’s discharge.
Florida has roughly 1.5 million veterans, and there are an estimated 61,000 active military personnel stationed in the state.
“The Florida GI Bill makes Florida the most military-friendly state in the nation and supports the brave men and women who protect us at home and abroad,” said Senate President Gaetz, who attended the signing.
“Critical investments will be made to protect our military base missions and strengthen our National Guard Armories,” Gaetz added.
Florida GI Bill is a key component of the joint House and Senate “Work Plan Florida 2014,” authored by Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford. The bill incorporates three of the five Work Plan agenda items, including a nearly $400 million recurring reduction in vehicle registration fees and a comprehensive package of legislation to protect against sexual offenders have passed the Senate and House now on Scott’s desk. He expects to sign these priorities into law later this week.
“The State of Florida now leads the nation in offering service members and veterans opportunities for growth,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Garrett Richter, a Vietnam Bronze Star recipient. “I hope other states follow suit in making a meaningful difference in the lives of our nation’s heroes and their families.”
Sen. Thad Altman, chair of the Senate Military and Veterans Affairs Committee, was Senate sponsor of the Florida GI Bill. He also commented on the passage.
“I am proud that Florida has chosen to celebrate this service and valor by expanding opportunities available for those who have defended our country,” Altman said.
The Florida Chamber of Commerce, an active supporter of the many of the components making up the GI Bill, praised the omnibus veteran’s legislation.
“The Florida Chamber has long-championed the passage of the Florida GI Bill, and the reasons are simple,” said Chamber Board Member Stan Connelly, President and CEO of Gulf Power speaking after the ceremony. “We want to help ensure veterans have the education and skills for the jobs of today and tomorrow, and job creators throughout Florida want to hire our heroes. Florida’s veteran community is a vital part of our state.”
Reactions by other legislative leaders were equally positive.
“I would like to thank the Governor for signing this important piece of legislation today to ensure that Florida is the top ‘welcome home’ state for our veterans and military personnel,” said House Majority Leader Steve Crisafulli, who also serves as Speaker Designate. “I can’t think of a better way to show our appreciation to these brave servicemen and women than to make education more affordable and career success more attainable.”
“I thank Governor Scott for standing behind our men and women in uniform and supporting this legislation that will help them pursue a higher education and gain civilian careers after their time in the military,” said Rep. Jimmie Smith, a United States Army veteran of 20 years, who served in Panama, Korea, and Saudi Arabia during Desert Storm.
“With his signature today,” Smith added, “the Governor is taking the final step toward making Florida the number one state in the nation for veterans, members of the military, and their families. These individuals make tremendous sacrifices for our country and deserve our sincere appreciation and support.”
Material from the Associated Press was used in this post.