Florida GI Bill Seeks To Make State More 'Military Friendly'

, Daily Business Review

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Pitching an aggressive state "GI Bill," Republican legislative leaders want to attract more military veterans to the Sunshine State and attract more people to the Florida National Guard.

The hefty proposals (HB 7015 and SPB 7020), which include spending $14.5 million a year for an expansion of free tuition for members of the National Guard, would create a non-profit to market Florida to former members of the U.S. military. Also, they would upgrade state armories, ease professional licensing for veterans and offer a waiver for all honorably discharged veterans from having to pay out-of-state tuition charges at state colleges and universities.

The potential overall costs remain unknown.

Katie Betta, a spokeswoman for Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, said Thursday that efforts are being made to ensure money is available to cover all the personnel who are expected to seek the various educational and business incentives.

"Those numbers will become more defined as the bill moves through the process," Betta said.

The biggest one-time cost would be to speed an ongoing revitalization program of state armories, which the National Guard projects will cost about $30 million.

The Department of Military Affairs has requested $12.5 million for the upcoming year for armory improvements, providing upgrades for six facilities.

The intent of the overall measure is to create more opportunities for Florida, said Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, as they endorsed the Florida GI Bill on Wednesday.

"We believe that there are some things that we can do to make sure we are the most military friendly state in the United States of America, bar none," Weatherford said.

The proposal would also help military personal shift into civilian life, Gaetz said.

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