JEFFERSON CITY - A House committee advanced two bills Tuesday that would extend education benefits for military members and veterans who attend colleges in Missouri.
The Senate passed both bills last month and the bills were heard in the House Veterans Committee on Tuesday. One bill would allow military veterans without a dishonorable discharge to pay in-state tuition at Missouri higher education institutions.
Under current law, a veteran must reside in Missouri for 12 months after they retire from the military before they qualify for in-state tuition.
Sponsoring Sen. Will Kraus, R-Lee's Summit, said the bill would waive the residency requirement for military veterans. Kraus currently serves in the U.S. Army Reserves and he was a platoon leader in Iraq in 2003.
Kraus said many military members live on Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. but never officially declare Missouri as their state of residency. Without officially being a Missouri resident, military members have to pay out-of-state tuition at Missouri colleges when they retire from service.
Under the bill, military veterans who would pay in-state tuition would save over $13,00 a year at the University of Missouri -Columbia and $200 per credit hour at Lincoln University.
"This is one of those things that I think makes sense to help our veterans reduce their cost for education." Kraus said.
House Veteran's Committee Chairman Rep. Charlie Davis, R-Webb City, said his committee did make a few changes to the bill. The original bill stated a military member must have been stationed in Missouri for one year and declare residency in Missouri before they are waived from out-of-state tuition.
The House committee passed an amendment to the bill Tuesday that eliminates the one year requirement. If the bill is passed on the House floor, it will have to go back to the Senate so the new changes can be approved.
Davis said the one year requirement defeats the purpose of the bill which is why the House committee removed it.
Kraus said he agreed with the change to the bill that would eliminate the one year requirement for military veterans. He said under the original bill, people who lived in Missouri for most of their life and became soldiers stationed in another state, they would have to pay out-of-state-tuition at colleges if they returned to Missouri as veterans.
"We think that language is too restrictive," Kraus said
Kraus said it would benefit Missouri to attract military retirees to stay here in Missouri.
"They usually have a higher disposable income," Kraus said. "They have skill sets that we all would like in our businesses."
Dewey Riehn with the state chapter of the Veterans of Foreign Wars said his association is working with the national U.S. Congress to make it mandatory for states that accept G.I. bill money to allow veterans to pay in-state tuition. The G.I. bill offers financial assistance to military war veterans so that they may attend college institutions.
"It makes me feel good when I can go to Washington D.C. and tell the people up there that Missouri has already dealt with that," Riehn said in reference to the bill that would allow veterans to pay in-state tuition.
Another Senate bill heard in the committee on Tuesday would require higher education institutions to award credit to students for training they took in the military. The bill would also make it so that health licenses of military members won't expire while they're away for duty.
"To me, it's common sense to give them credit for what they learned while in the military," Davis said.
Both bills were passed out of the House committee and now go to the the full House.