COLUMBIA, S.C. — The South Carolina House gave overwhelming approval Thursday to a measure designed to improve life for military men and women and to fend off military base closures as the Pentagon slims its ranks.
"We don't want to lose our bases," said Rep. Chip Limehouse, R-Mount Pleasant, one of the chief architects of the bill. "These military sites, these jobs, are important to the state of South Carolina."
Limehouse's wide-ranging measure was set for a perfunctory vote on Friday that will move it to the Senate, where it faces an uncertain future. Several bills dealing with similar matters contained in the House bill have languished in the Senate.
The House measure waives a one-year waiting period for in-state tuition at state colleges and universities for military men and women and their dependents. It also supports the creation of special courts across the state to treat veterans who have run into legal trouble but are nonviolent and directs them toward treatment programs. Both those topics are on hold in Senate bills.
On other topics, the House measure calls for the creation of a "Children's Welfare Task Force" composed of specific state officials to work with military commanders on the welfare of military children. It also calls for an annual report to promote the academic progress of military children.
The bill allows military families who are transferred out of state to maintain their place in line for certain Medicaid assistance programs for their families upon their return to South Carolina. It also supports helping military men and women vote by absentee ballot regardless of whether they are absent from their county on election day.
The House bill was approved by a vote of 110-1, with Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg, casting the lone dissenting vote.
Cobb-Hunter said she was unhappy that a section of the original legislation that would have strengthened protections for military members against predatory lenders was taken out of the bill in committee. Cobb-Hunter was listed as one of the original sponsors of the bill.
"I am very much in support of the military, but I think predatory lending is a very serious issue. Even though this is addressed in federal law, having it restated in state law is very important," Cobb-Hunter said afterward.
Limehouse said he thought the measure is a major step in moving forward to meet a checklist of items that the Department of Defense has suggested would improve the quality of life for military men and women across the country.
"When this comes down to it, this shows that we have done everything we could do in this state to enhance life for the men and women of the military," he said after the vote.