Senate passes measure designed to help veterans
Published: Tuesday, January 24, 2012 at 6:06 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 24, 2012 at 6:06 p.m.
TALLAHASSEE — State Sen. Mike Bennett began his successful career as a businessman after earning his education largely through benefits he received as a veteran following four years in Vietnam. He'd like to see today's vets get some of the same chances.
The Florida Senate unanimously passed Bennett's bill (SB 922) Tuesday that would provide a $10,000 tax credit for businesses that hire Florida National Guardsmen and require the state's colleges and universities to provide priority course registration to veterans returning to school. It also creates a program for some active duty personnel and veterans who suffer from mental illness as a result of their military service.
But Bennett didn't get everything he wanted. Most especially omitted was a provision that would allow a veteran who was honorably discharged to use his military separation documents for an automatic admission to a college or university of his choice.
"That would be your ticket to college," an angry Bennett said.
"Unfortunately we could not get that piece into the bill today because of objections from the university system," Bennett said. "They felt that these people might not be qualified."
There is, however, other legislation that would allow veterans to be admitted to any state university or college of their choice in Florida.
Bennett, R-Bradenton, went into the Navy out of high school in 1963 and spent most of his next four years in Vietnam. Then he got his college education with help from the GI bill. Today he's a multimillionaire electrical contractor.
"In California you were automatically admitted into the system if you were in fact a veteran, and that's how I got into college," Bennett said. "California said, 'look you're a veteran, come on in.'"
He thinks Florida vets should have the same chance.
"I would've never been able to go to college if I had not been in the service," Bennett said. "We should those guys an opportunity. We certainly owe 'em an opportunity for a shot."
Information from the Board of Governors showed that for Summer/Fall 2010 there were 10,692 veterans, active duty, and eligible dependents enrolled in the State University System, of which 605 were non-resident.
"With their proven leadership, skills and discipline, hiring Florida's heroes is a smart move for businesses and the right thing to do for our veterans and their families," Gov. Rick Scott said during the annual Florida National Guard Day activities at the Capitol. "These individuals are going over there and they are potentially sacrificing their life."
Scott, like Bennett, served as an enlisted man in the Navy.
Lawmakers also honored two fallen Medal of Honor winners on Tuesday.
The parents of Paul Ray Smith of Tampa and Robert J. Miller were on hand as the Senate praised the heroism of their sons.
Smith, who was making the Army a career, was killed in a firefight in Iraq in April 2003, while Miller was killed Jan. 25, 2008, in a firefight with the Taliban in Afghanistan. Miller, who was 24, is buried in Casselberry and Smith, who died at 33, at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
The Medal of Honor is awarded to military personnel who distinguish themselves through conspicuous gallantry at the risk of his or her life while engaged against an enemy. It is awarded by the president and often posthumously.
The Senate also paid tribute to its own members who served: John Thrasher, Charlie Dean, Alan Hays, Garrett Richter and Bennett. Richter and Thrasher both served with the U.S. Army in Vietnam.