JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Lawmakers are debating new programs that will impact the more than 1.6 million veterans who live in the state of Florida. Politicians are working to make Florida the top "Welcome Home" state for military veterans and their families.
Senate Bill 7020 includes provisions that will help current and former military personnel with education and employment services among other things.
Colonel Len Loving serves as the CEO of the Five Star Veterans Center, helping homeless veterans get back on their feet. But before stepping into that role, he served 30 years active duty in the Marine Corps and remembers how difficult returning home can be.
"My own personal experience coming back from Vietnam it was very cold," said Loving.
He said the services offered now weren't readily available for military personnel back then. So the Florida GI bill sends a welcomed message.
"It gives a message to a veteran that we are going to help you go through and attain goals in your life," said Loving.
Senate Bill 7020 unanimously passed through state Senate Committee on Tuesday.
It includes waiving out-of-state tuition fees, funds scholarships, and gives book stipends for members of the Florida National Guard not eligible for the federal GI Bill.
The legislation also aims to restore and renovate Florida National Guard armories, and offer entrepreneurial mentoring programs for veterans.
"From what I've read, it looks good," said Loving. "But until they put a dollar sign on it, we won't know whether the full house and Senate will consider it a success."
The changes will be paid for through general revenue.
SPB 7020 contains provisions on a number of proposals relating to employment, education, services, and benefits for current and former military personnel. In general, the bill:
· Expands the scope of Florida National Guard Education Dollars for Duty program to allow for funds to be used for additional activities and provides for the release of student grade and status information to the Florida Department of Military Affairs;
· Updates a 2008 reference to the U.S. Uniform Code of Military Justice to the 2012 version;
· Creates the Florida Veterans' Walk of Honor and Memorial Garden, to be located on the Capitol Complex grounds, and administered and funded by the Florida Department of Veterans' Affairs' (FDVA) direct support organization;
· Expands the employment preference for positions in the state, local and regional governmental entities, including the public education system, to all veterans, current members of the Reserves and the Florida National Guard, and the parents and spouses of servicemembers who died in combat;
· Creates a marketing research and marketing campaign to promote Florida to retired and recently separated military;
· Creates the Veterans Employment and Training Support (VETS) program to connect veterans and businesses, assist veterans in assessing employment skills, provide veterans training for business related skills, and provide veterans entrepreneur mentoring;
· Creates Florida Is For Veterans, Inc., a nonprofit corporation within the FDVA, to administer the VETS program and the marketing research and campaign efforts;
· Eliminates the one-year Florida residency requirement for entrance into Florida veterans' home and the state's veterans nursing homes; and
· Extends the period in which to waive initial licensing fee within the departments of Business and Professional Regulation and Department of Health from 24 months to 60 months after an honorable discharge from the service. Expands the waiver to include the spouse of the veteran.
Information provided by flsenate.gov