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Governor Crist Signs Military and Veterans Bills into Law
Thursday, Jun 12, 2008 - 09:57 AM
~ New laws expand benefits to current and former members of the military ~
TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE – Governor Charlie Crist today signed four bills into law that will benefit and honor Florida’s military members and veterans during a
visit to the 601st Air and Space Operations Center at Tyndall Air Force Base. The new legislation supports business owners with military service-connected
disabilities and veterans residing in Florida’s State Veterans’ Homes. The Governor also signed bills enhancing the Family Readiness Program and expanding
student access to Reserve Officers’ Training Corps programs.
“The brave men and women who serve in our nation’s Armed Forces deserve our deepest gratitude and utmost support,” said Governor Crist. “While we can never
truly repay them for their sacrifices, we can demonstrate our appreciation through these important legislative initiatives along with our prayers for their
safety and for their families.”
Executive Director of the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs Rear Admiral LeRoy Collins Jr., U.S. Navy Reserve (Ret.); Adjutant General of the Florida
National Guard Major General Douglas Burnett; Linda South, Secretary of the Florida Department of Management Services; and bill sponsors Senator Durell
Peaden Jr. (R-Crestview) and Representatives Jimmy Patronis (R-Panama City), Debbie Boyd (D-High Springs) and Speaker Designate Ray Sansom (R-Fort Walton Beach) joined the Governor as he signed the bills into law.
Summaries of the new legislation are as follows:
House Bill 687, Service-Disabled Veteran Business Enterprises – Creates a preference in state contracting for small businesses owned by service-disabled
veterans. In doing so, it promotes access for service-disabled veteran businesses to state contracts and encourages other such veterans to start businesses.
The Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs will work with the Florida Department of Management Services to implement the preference.
Gary Harris, owner of American Building Inspectors Corporation based in Fort White, represented veterans who will benefit from the legislation at the signing
ceremony. He and his wife Delayna established the business in November 2007 to offer commercial and residential building inspections for legal and real
Senate Bill 2120, Grants and Donations Trust Fund Flexibility – Provides the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs additional flexibility in expending
funds from its Grants and Donations Trust Fund. Initially only used for common recreational equipment and activities, trust fund dollars may now be used by
the department to provide basic quality of life goods and services to residents in Florida’s State Veterans’ Homes.
“The Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs is grateful to Governor Crist, the Florida Legislature and Florida’s Veteran Service Organizations for their
support,” said Admiral Collins of the FDVA. “The contract preference is a step in the right direction to help Florida’s veterans achieve their dreams after
they complete their military service.
“In addition, the new trust fund flexibility will directly benefit veterans residing in Florida’s six Veterans’ Homes by paying for personal items that they
previously had to pay for out-of-pocket, such as haircuts and personal hygiene items,” Collins continued.
House Bill 843, Family Readiness Program – Expands eligibility to single servicemembers who otherwise meet criteria to receive financial assistance through
the Family Readiness Program. The program provides need-based emergency financial assistance to Florida National Guardsmen, U.S. Reservists and Coast Guard
Reservists and their families for up to 120 days after servicemembers leave active duty. Approximately 1,410 members of the Florida National Guard and
reservists are currently deployed abroad in the Global War on Terrorism.
Since the Family Readiness Program began in 2005, the Florida Department of Military Affairs has awarded approximately $735,000 to eligible servicemember
families in 1,501 cases. For example, when Specialist Charles Catalanotto of Pensacola was deployed to Iraq in 2006, his wife Jennifer requested financial
assistance to purchase a vehicle for their family, which consisted of her father and seven children between ages seven and 16. Both of the family’s vehicles
had developed mechanical problems, and the family needed a reliable vehicle. The $10,000 in assistance they received helped them purchase a van to provide
dependable and safe transportation.
House Bill 251, Reserve Officers’ Training Corps Programs – Prohibits school districts from banning Junior ROTC units in certain schools and requires school
districts to allow students, under certain circumstances, to enroll in JROTC at other schools. The legislation also prohibits community colleges and state
universities from banning ROTC programs and requires school districts, community colleges and state universities to grant military recruiters certain access
to students, school facilities and grounds, and student information.
“On behalf of Floridians everywhere, I want to thank our defenders of freedom for their patriotism, their courage and their selfless service,” said Governor
Crist. “Florida continues its reputation for being a military and veteran-friendly state by doing what is right – caring for our veterans and our troops
serving our state and our nation at home and abroad.”
Later today, Governor Crist will visit Pensacola Naval Air Station to attend the reopening of the lighthouse for public tours. The lighthouse is an active
aid to navigation and is maintained by the U.S. Coast Guard. He will be joined by Rear Admiral Joel Whitehead, commander of the 8th United States Coast Guard
District headquartered in New Orleans, and Captain Edwin Stanton, Sector Commander of the United States Coast Guard, based in Mobile, Alabama.