By SUSANNE M. SCHAFER
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) _ Members of the House Education Committee gave unanimous approval Wednesday to a measure giving military veterans in-state tuition at South Carolina state colleges and universities as soon as they become residents.
The bill now moves to the full House for its consideration. The Senate approved the same measure in March.
The bill waives the one-year residency requirement for all veterans who are honorably discharged.
The panel acted after Rep. Bill Taylor, R-Aiken, told lawmakers all veterans attending schools in the state who are on the Post 9/11 GI Bill would lose their benefits after July 1 unless such a measure was approved.
It brings the state in line with a federal law approved last year that would penalize those states who lag in providing the in-state tuition to veterans, thousands of whom are going back to school in the wake of their military service.
“This is an urgent bill,” Taylor said. “If we don’t do this, the GI Bill will get gone on July first.”
Estimates are that if lawmakers fail to act, it might cost the state’s veteran-students about $50 million, the lawmaker said.
The costs to the schools of losing the one year of out-of-state tuition is about $14 million in comparison, officials said.
Taylor pointed out that the measure passed the Senate in March by a unanimous vote, as it had earlier in the day in the House education subcommittee.
“This bill is bare bones, but we got to get `er done,” Taylor said.
A similar measure fell just short of gaining lawmakers’ approval last year.
William Bethea, the chairman of the state’s Military Base Task Force, said he was pleased by the panel’s action.
“We’re just delighted,” said Bethea, who was named by Gov. Nikki Haley to head the panel tasked with protecting the state’s military bases from closure. “Based on the reception it’s gotten so far, we are hopeful it is moving forward.”
Bethea and other backers of the measure have argued that the proposal will bring more military veterans to the state and thereby boost the quality of the state’s workforce.
They also argue that it makes the state more “military friendly” and might blunt a Pentagon push to close or reduce the size of the state’s military installations amid cutbacks in the size of the nation’s military force.
The measure also allows a veteran who does not choose to use the education benefit to pass it along to their spouse or dependent.