‘This is designed to keep veterans in school’; Bill seeks to help vets pay for college fees and textbooks

Members of the Utah House work on the floor during a special session at the state Capitol in Salt Lake City, Utah, April 18, 2018. | Associated Press file photo by Rick Bowmer, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Of the host of legislative bills that will be introduced during the 2020 general session, one is reportedly on a fast track to the governor’s desk.

Introduced by Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, Veterans Education Amendments, House Bill 45, is scheduled to be considered by the members of the House Education Standing Committee on Wednesday.

If signed into law, HB 45 would allow veterans attending college to use state appropriated funding to pay for college fees and textbooks.

Under the post-9/11 federal GI Bill, veterans have 36 months of educational benefits. A few years ago, the Utah Legislature passed an initiative that pays for veteran’s tuition if they are in their final year of school and have exhausted all of their benefits. HB 45 would amend this initiative to include covering the cost of fees and textbooks.

This issue is near and dear to Ray’s heart. The genesis of the bill came from the Utah Veterans and Military Affairs Commission, which was created and now chaired by Ray.

The commission, made up of appointees from state government, higher education, Veterans Affairs, Workforce Services, the Health Department and the Utah National Guard, meets every summer to brainstorm ideas that benefit veterans and active military personnel.

Headshot of Rep. Paul Ray, location and date not specified | Photo from Ray’s Utah House webpage, St. George News

“Every year we come out with something,” Ray said. “I think there was one year there were 30 bills that originated from the commission. It’s a broad spectrum of areas that touch veterans and military affairs.”

The goal is to make things better for everyone who has served, he added.

“One of the commission’s thoughts last summer was that if we could use the money that we get as a state for educational benefits, we could help (former) National Guard soldiers and other veterans,” he said. “We allow the funds to be used for continuing education, but one of the things that were never allowed was to use this money to pay for certain class fees and textbooks.”

Steven Roberts, Dixie State University director of Veterans and Military Services, is in favor of HB 45.

“This is designed to keep veterans in school and help them finish,” Roberts said. “The fees alone can be more than $400 and then books on top of that. This bill would really help us maximize our funding.”

There are many reasons why veterans use up their federal benefits, Roberts said, including having to take remedial courses to get up to speed for college-level classes, changing majors and having to repeat a class.

“It just takes a little bit longer than 36 months for some to complete their degree,” he said. “That is why this program came into effect. It has been helpful and still is helpful. In fact, we’ve had students use it this year.”

For a complete list of contacts for Southern Utah representatives and senators, click here.

Check out all of St. George News’ coverage of the 2020 Utah Legislature here.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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