SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Senate killed a bill Friday that would have provided $250,000 in higher education grants to service members whose GI Bill benefits have been exhausted.
The bill's sponsor, Sen. Luz Robles, D-Salt Lake, said veterans who were making satisfactory academic progress would be eligible for the state grants to complete their educations and address their "astronomical unemployment rate."
Sen. Karen Morgan, D-Cottonwood Heights, said many young veterans were very close to finishing their college degrees. "This would give them that little bit of help, which is what we're trying to do as a state, boost that graduation rate," Morgan said.
Robles asked her colleagues to "vote on the policy and not the politics behind this."
But the Senate defeated SB44 on a vote of 11-14, amid arguments that the bill "was not a priority bill for the veterans' community," said Sen. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem.
The bill, Dayton said, created disincentives to complete one's education in a timely manner and provides false hope because it is unclear the funding could be sustained.
Retired Maj. Gen. Peter Cooke, a Democratic candidate for governor, said in a statement Friday that the defeat of HB44 was part of a "pattern of disrespect towards our military from the Utah State Legislature that must be stopped."
Cooke, who served 29 years in the U.S. Army Reserve, said, he was "appalled at the pattern of disrespect towards our armed forces that is broadcasting loud and clear from our state Legislature."
Another bill that provided a property tax break for active duty military members also met some opposition in the Senate, although it passed.
Senate leaders said the National Guard prefers to fund tuition incentives as a recruiting tool.
Senate Majority Leader Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, said he and Rep. Curtis Oda, R-Clearfield, are sponsoring a related measure, which would extend in-state tuition rates to reserve members of the armed forces assigned to Utah. They would be considered residents for tuition purposes at state-supported colleges and universities under HCR5.
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