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SC Senate panel approves bill to drop wait for out-of-state veterans to get instate tuition

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COLUMBIA, South Carolina — Out-of-state military veterans could come to South Carolina and immediately pay instate tuition at its colleges and universities, under legislation endorsed Thursday by a state Senate panel.

"I'm glad the bill got approved, I have a lot of veterans in my district," said the sponsor, Sen. Tom Young, R-Aiken, after the higher education subcommittee approved the measure and sent it to the full Senate Education Committee.

A similar measure fell just short of gaining lawmakers' approval last year.

The bill also allows a military veteran who chooses not to use the benefit to transfer it to a spouse or children.

Backers of the proposal said it will bring more military retirees to the state, boosting the quality of South Carolina's workforce.

They also argued it makes the state more "military friendly" and will blunt Pentagon moves to close or reduce the size of the state's military installations.

"This is the right thing to do, and it's also the smart thing to do," said Jim Lorraine, president of the America's Warrior Partnership, which works with communities to develop programs to assist veterans.

"We believe this is a critical law," said Bill Bethea, chairman of the South Carolina Military Base Task Force. "We believe the cost of not doing it is far in excess of doing it. It is a significant workforce enhancement."

Supporters testified that the measure brings South Carolina in line with a federal law approved last year.

But the senators also were told that if a state doesn't approve the instate tuition waiver, veteran-students would not be able to use benefits through the Montgomery GI Bill and the Post 9/11 GI bills.

A representative of the Commission on Higher Education told senators that officials estimate waiving the one year of out-of-state tuition would cost just under $14 million in lost tuition and fees. But if the state is penalized by the federal government for not removing the waiver, it could cost schools and veterans more than $30 million in lost GI Bill benefits.

Representatives from The Citadel told senators that while they are fully in favor of helping veterans, the change will cost them nearly $2 million in lost tuition. But if the state doesn't approve the measure, that means the state military college would lose about $6 million in GI Bill benefits, said Col. Joseph Garcia, the school's vice president for finance.

Asked whether the school officials thought it would be better to lose $1.9 million in tuition or $6 million in lost GI bill benefits, Garcia responded, "It would be better, but not good," prompting a round of rueful laughter from both senators and audience.

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