Fearing an opposition firestorm on the eve of Memorial Day, Texas Lawmakers abandoned their efforts of reigning in the massive costs of the tuition for veterans program. The original sponsor of the bill added an amendment that ensured that the program remains virtually the same.
This tuition program allows many children of US veterans to be eligible for free tuition, however, Rep. John Zerwas would have wanted to amend Senate Bill 1735 in order to scale down costs. Zerwas’s initiative was a result of the request of several universities which had complained that “legacy benefits” were too costly.
According to the bill’s opposition, made up of mostly fiscal conservatives, it would have been required to undergo significant rollbacks so that the Hazelwood Act higher education program could remain sustainable.
As the Hazelwood Act states, veterans are offered tuition-free education at Texas public universities. But due to a modification of the law in 2009, if veterans don’t use this college credit, it may be passed along to their children. So in theory, the 1.7 million veterans in the state would be eligible for tuition-free college education.
The only issue is that costs began spiraling after the 2009 amendment to the Hazelwood Act. If in 2010, costs were $24.7 million, they soared to $169 million in 2013. Officials explain that these costs are a direct reflection of the fact that children of veterans (and not veterans themselves) have begun using their parents’ credits.
His initial proposal would have limited the Hazelwood program. Originally, Zerwas wished to introduce an expiration date for benefits as well as include clear veteran eligibility requirements for residency and service.
These requirements would have mandated veterans to have served at least six yearsbefore being able to pass as much as 120 credit hours to their children. Additionally, there would have been a 15-year time limit during which either veterans or their children would have been able to take advantage of these benefits.
However, on Sunday evening, the bill’s sponsor proceeded with an amended bill.
“How hypocritical that on the eve of Memorial Day, the day after our memorial day service, that this Legislature is trying to break its promise to veterans and their families,” Democratic Rep. Cesar Blanco said.
After much debate on Sunday, Zerwas pulled down the bill due to a procedural challenge. SB1735 did not gather enough votes, it seems, and Zerwas relented.
Zerwas’s reviewed version, which proposed a compromise, passed in the evening 137-0 and even drew applause from those present.
But despite this apparent victory, additional changes to the bill may still appear in the future, as the bill must now undergo Senate critique. And Zerwas still wishes do add some restrictions to the program.
In the end, The House reminded those in attendance that upholding its promise to veterans and their families is a priority. Sunday’s vote, House representatives said, would only point them in the right direction as to which issues need further discussion.