Assembly GOP knocks Dems for blocking Gold Star scholarship bill (updated x2)

(Note: this post has been revised to reflect the fact that the bill would expand eligibility for an existing scholarship program, not create a new scholarship, as the press releases from all three Republicans implied.)

Assembly Republicans teed off on their chamber’s ruling party this week after a committee tabled a recurring bill that would expand eligibility for a state scholarship that enables the children of any New Yorker who is killed in military combat to attend any state college for free.

“We will never be able to do enough to thank the brave men and women of our armed forces, and military families, for their service,” Assemblyman Brian Miller, a New Hartford Republican who represents seven towns in Orange, Ulster and Sullivan counties, said in a statement on Thursday. “At the very least, this state should help ensure that children who have lost a parent due to military service have every opportunity to pursue their education.”

The bill, first introduced in the Assembly in 2006 but never brought to a vote in that chamber, would expand eligibility for the MERIT program by allowing children whose parents are killed or suffer a severe, permanent disability while on duty anywhere – including during training in the U.S. – to receive scholarships covering tuition, room and board at any SUNY or CUNY college. (The program applies now only to the children of service members who are killed or disabled while “in a combat theater or a combat zone of operations.”) The Senate passed the bill each of the last three years. No estimate of how much it would cost the state was available.

(Update: Assemblyman Jonathan Jacobson, a Newburgh Democrat, correctly points out that the current program already encompasses certain training-related deaths or injuries as well: those that happen “during military training operations in preparation for duty in a combat theater or combat zone of operations.” He blasted Assembly Republicans for spreading the false notion that Democrats had stopped scholarships for Gold Star children. “I think the biggest disservice here is they’re making it sound like there’s no existing program.”)

Miller and the other two Republican assemblymen representing pieces of Orange, Ulster and Sullivan counties – Karl Brabenec and Colin Schmitt – each issued press releases supporting the bill and denouncing Democrats after the Higher Education Committee voted 15-11 on Tuesday to hold the legislation.

They said the committee chairwoman, Deborah Glick of Manhattan, objected that the proposal would create a new “entitlement” and should be taken up as part of the budget, which already was enacted on April 1. Republicans contrasted that reasoning with the state budgeting $27 million for the children of illegal immigrants to apply for tuition aid, a long-standing Democratic proposal that was approved earlier this year.

“When it comes to illegal aliens and those who have broken our nation’s laws, Assembly Democrats have no problem backing up the Brinks truck, but when we offer help to military families, they turn their backs,” said Brabenec, R-Deerpark.

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