While South Carolina’s legislature made progress this session in reaffirming the state’s military-friendly status, but it still has work to do to pass muster nationwide.
With Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) sessions looming in 2015, lawmakers this month passed two more of the 10 quality-of-life measures highlighted by the U.S. Department of Defense.
The Military Service Occupation, Education and Credentialing Act: It grants veterans licensing and academic credit for certain kinds of military education, training and experience. The law was signed by Gov. Nikki Haley on June 7.
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The Veterans Treatment Court Program Act: The measure sets up special courts in each county that send veterans charged with nonviolent offenses into programs that treat conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder rather than jail. Haley is expected to sign the law sometime this week, according to a report from the Associated Press.
Prior to the passage of those two bills, the three quality-of-life measures the state had already passed — improvements to absentee voting for military members and their families; improvements to consumer protections and the enforcement of predatory lending regulations; and allowing military spouses the ability to transfer professional licenses and receive unemployment benefits — put the Palmetto State last among nearby states.
State Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, said the legislature will continue working to pass the remaining measures.
“We’ve now addressed five of BRAC’s 10 quality-of-life measures, but the legislature can’t rest on its laurels,” Davis said. “It must now pass the military in-state tuition bill and the ones I’ve filed to mitigate the unique challenges faced by children in military families. Our laws must recognize the unique sacrifices made by our military families, not simply because it improves our installations’ prospects in the BRAC process, but because it is the right thing to do.”
In the last two weeks of the legislative session, Davis filed four bills that address the final five measures.
Those bills are:
S.754, which would create an annual report card for military children that tracks their attendance, graduation rates and academic performance in key subjects.
S.756, which would allow service members to maintain enrollment in Medicaid programs that provide in-home and community-based care. Service members would be able to keep their Medicaid enrollment and their priority on waiting lists if they are state residents, even if they are stationed outside South Carolina.
S.771, which would will create a welfare task force for military children and open lines of communication between state and military installation child welfare agencies.
S.787, a Senate version of a House bill that waives the waiting period for military members to establish residency in obtaining in-state tuition rates at colleges and universities.
Davis said he was optimistic about the prospects for the county’s three bases — Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort and Naval Hospital Beaufort — in the BRAC process.
“Beaufort County’s area's military installations are the best in the country, and I am confident they will survive BRAC scrutiny on their merits,” he said.
Attempts Friday and Saturday to reach members of the Beaufort County Regional Chamber of Commerce’s Military Enhancement Committee for comment were unsuccessful.