Governor Rick Scott signed the Florida GI Bill into law during a ceremony this Monday (March 31) morning in Panama City. Florida Senate President and House Speaker Will Weatherford were on hand for the bill signing, which kicked off week five of the 2014 legislative session.
President Gaetz and Speaker Weatherford put the Florida GI Bill atop their “Work Plan Florida 2014” legislative priority list and ensured that it passed on the House of Representatives on the first day of the session and by the Senate soon after.
“The legislation provides in-state tuition to all military members, even if they’re not residents of Florida, as a way of encouraging them to stay in Florida, comb back to Florida, to build their homes in Florida, to build their careers in Florida,” said Gaetz (R-Niceville) in this week’s update with WUWF.
Florida has over 1.5 million veterans in the state, the third highest total in the nation behind California and Texas. The intent of the legislation is for Florida to become the "welcome home state" for America's military missions and military families.
Key provisions of the GI Bill include:
- Appropriates an additional $22.2 million to support our military community through education, technical training, base buffering, and modernizing the state’s armories.
- Establishes the Congressman C.W. Bill Young Veteran Tuition Waiver Program which will waive out-of-state tuition fees for honorably discharged veterans enrolled in Florida colleges, universities, and career centers.
- Creates Florida is for Veterans, Inc., and the VETS program through which veterans will have a place to get information about the benefits of living in Florida, to seek out veteran specific workforce training, and connect with employers who value a strong, military skill set.
- Promotes Florida to veteran and military communities around the country as the most veteran-friendly state in the country through Florida is for Veterans, Inc., and Visit Florida.
Reviewing week four of the legislative session, the half-way point, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved four bills aimed at improving Florida’s education system. Senate Bill 790 creates a dedicated source of funding for school district technology; Senate Bill 850 reinforces the link between education and the economy; Senate Bill 1148 increases the value and accessibility of higher education; and Senate Bill 1642 simplifies Florida’s school grading system, while also making it more transparent.
Also during week four, the Florida Senate passed a bill to increase the availability of private-market flood insurance in Florida. Senate Bill 542 creates an alternative to the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) by authorizing insurance companies to offer affordable flood policies in Florida.
“Senator Brandes has stepped up with legislation that we passed that will attract private flood insurance companies into our state that will begin to fill the vacuum left by the withdrawal of some federal flood coverage,” says President Gaetz adding that the bill provides that homeowners only need to have enough flood insurance to cover their mortgage. The idea he says is “to make flood insurance affordable, attract more companies into our state and hopefully help to keep our burgeoning real estate sales going.”
Additionally, the Senate passed bills to expand Florida’s ethics laws and update Florida’s existing public records laws.
Senate Bill 846 promotes transparency, accountability, and ethical behavior among officials in local governments, special taxing districts, and quasi-governmental organizations that deliver government services or collect and spend taxpayer dollars.
Senate Bill Senate Bill 1648 clarifies public records laws to ensure uniformity in application for local governments responding to citizen requests.
Looking ahead, Senate President Gaetz says there will be a lot of legislative activity on the Senate floor this week, with efforts primarily focused on passing an Appropriations Bill that “provides for historic funding for education, but at the same time involves less dollars per citizens than we did last year,” says Gaetz, who predicts a bi-partisan majority voting in favor of the budget bill.
For more information or to contact Senate President Don Gaetz, visit the Florida Senate web site at www.flsenate.gov.