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Bill allowing military veterans to pay in-state tuition advances in committee

A Senate panel on Tuesday approved a bill to automatically qualify honorably discharged military veterans for a program that allows them to pay in-state tuition in colleges and universities.

Given lawmakers’ support for proposals that help members of the military and veterans, the bill was expected to advance.

What’s interesting, though, is that a Democrat, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Phoenix, is the measure’s primary sponsor.

Sinema’s successes thus far illustrate how minority members can advance legislation in a year in which their numbers have shrunk considerably. She was also the primary sponsor of the first bill that Gov. Jan Brewer signed into law this session. That measure, SB1101, restricts protests during funeral services.

Sinema said the key is finding an issue everybody can agree on.

“Military issues don’t have a partisan nature,” Sinema said, referring to SB1223.

In practice, that’s easier said than done. Many lobbyists and interest groups prefer to have a member of the majority sponsor legislation they seek. And if a bill is not controversial, a Republican is usually around to pick it up.

The difficulty is to find an issue that no Republican is already sponsoring. The bigger challenge is getting Republicans on board, and then persuading a committee chairman to hear a bill.

Actually, three of four the measures that were heard Tuesday in the Veterans and Military Affairs were primarily authored by Sinema.

All three measures passed unanimously. All bills also have Republican cosponsors.

David Lucier, president of the Arizona Veterans Foundation, said SB1223 would help attract veterans to Arizona’s universities, and Sinema said they help the state’s economy because they typically get federal support for their tuition as well as housing allowances.

Under the existing law, only those who have resided in Arizona for a year are entitled to in-state tuition. The exemptions include military members who are serving here and have claimed Arizona as their residence for 12 consecutive months before enrolling in a university or community college.

Also allowed to pay in-state tuition are veterans who have declared the state as their residence a year before an honorable discharge. In addition, they must be able to demonstrate their intent to be a resident of Arizona.

Sinema’s bill deletes those requirements for veterans and adds a list of items, such as transferring banking services here, that community colleges may use to determine whether a student could pay in-state tuition.

The two other Sinema-sponsored measures that passed in committee today were:

*SB1224 would allow some military dependents to continue receiving unemployment benefits when they lose their jobs because they accompany the military member being transferred out of the area. The bill would expand the list of “compelling personal circumstances” that would allow for continuing benefits under that circumstance.

*SCM1003 is an effort to help members of the military and veterans who have been exposed to depleted uranium munitions or equipment. The measure urges the U.S. departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs to assist them and their dependents to obtain a health screening for exposure.

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