New York Senate compromise would extend free college tuition for Gold Star families
By MARK WEINER | Syracuse (N.Y.) Media Group | Published: April 15, 2019
SYRACUSE, N.Y. (Tribune News Service) — Democrats and Republicans in the New York Senate joined forces Monday to unveil a bill that would provide free college tuition for the families of any New York military member killed or disabled in the line of duty.
The bipartisan bill comes less than a week after Assembly Democrats blocked similar legislation proposed by Republicans, setting off calls from both sides of the aisle to find common ground on the issue.
Assembly Democrats had criticized the bill last week for coming up outside the state budget process.
The GOP bill would have changed an existing state scholarship program that offers tuition aid to children, spouses and financial dependents of military members killed or disabled in combat zones.
The change would have provided free SUNY tuition to family members of servicemembers killed or disabled anywhere in the line of duty, including training accidents in the U.S. or overseas.
Some Democrats had criticized the bill as too loosely defining what constitutes a death or injury for military members conducting “official duties.”
Sens. John Brooks, D-Long Island, and Robert Ortt, R-North Tonawanda, the top Democrat and Republican on the Senate Veterans, Homeland Security and Military Affairs Committee, unveiled a compromise bill Monday.
Their bill, co-sponsored by 10 Democrats and eight Republicans, would become effective April 1, 2020 — allowing the state Legislature to provided funding in next year’s budget process.
The extra time would allow lawmakers to estimate better the additional costs that would be added to the MERIT scholarship program.
The legislation also would address concerns raised by Veterans of Foreign Wars leaders about the definition of what “official duties” would be covered by the law, according to a spokesman for Brooks.
Under the bill, the commissioner of the state Department of Education would be asked to propose rules about what military duties qualify surviving family members for free tuition. Any proposed rules would be subject to hearings and public review.
Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, D-Brooklyn, is expected to introduce a companion bill in the Assembly.
After the GOP bill was blocked last week in the Assembly Higher Education Committee, leaders across the political spectrum called for New York lawmakers to reconsider the issue.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he would support the bill outside of the budget process because, “We have a moral obligation, a social obligation to help those families who lost their provider, their loved one, in service to this nation.”
President Donald Trump weighed in on the issue late Friday night with a tweet.
“In New York State, Democrats blocked a Bill expanding College Tuition for Gold Star families after approving aid for illegal immigrants,” Trump tweeted. “No wonder so many people are leaving N.Y. Very Sad!”