CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginians could attend community and technical college for free under legislation passed unanimously Tuesday by the state Senate.

Senators who acknowledged they were initially skeptical about the idea of another free handout said they were swayed by conditions that were added to a program intended to provide young people with pathways to jobs and careers in trades where there are openings.

“This is clearly designed to try to keep them here, keep them working in West Virginia,” said Sen. Robert Karnes, an Upshur County Republican. “We have a lot of tradesmen in West Virginia but we need a lot more. We need plumbers. We need welders. We need IT technicians. … We’re targeting this in a place that we have not been property serving in our higher education institutions.”

Safeguards were put in to control costs, he said.

The Justice administration, which proposed the initiative, estimates the first-year cost at $8 million. If passed by the House and signed into law by Gov. Jim Justice, the program would begin in July.

It would authorize tuition grants to West Virginians at least 18 years old who have completed a secondary program from a public, private or home school.

They would have to maintain a 2.0 grade point average, take at least six credit hours a semester, pass a drug test each semester and perform eight hours of community service. They would have to file for federal financial aid, with those grants applied first against tuition costs.

Recipients would have to repay state grants if they don’t live in West Virginia for two years after getting their degree or certificate. People who already have a college degree would be ineligible.

Sen. Mike Romano, a Harrison County Democrat, said the Education Committee’s reduction in the age of eligibility, originally set at 20, was major. “It takes the children we were going to lose between 18 and 20 and it gives them a pathway to success.”

The bill would also direct state education officials to establish program where high school students in vocational studies can earn credits toward a two-year college associate’s degree in their fields.