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Legislature dutifully passed bills for GIs

Legislators hope the show of support will help state bases survive closings in the next two years.

By Associated Press
Published May 9, 2003

TALLAHASSEE - With the United States fighting in Iraq and patriotic fervor running high, the Legislature found it easy to pass bills to help the military during the regular session that ended last week.

There were bills to make life easier for military personnel, relieving them of responsibility for housing and auto leases and preserving their Bright Futures college scholarships when they are deployed. Others protected them from discrimination when they rent homes and expanded who qualifies for veterans' preference in hiring.

Homeowners were given the right to fly service flags on patriotic holidays regardless of condominium association rules; license tags were created for the Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard and paratroopers (the Marines already had one); and highways and bridges were named in honor of prisoners of war and Purple Heart recipients.

"We wanted to do everything we could to show our support and appreciation to our men and women in the military," said Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, chairman of the Military and Veterans' Affairs, Base Protection and Spaceports Committee.

There was a more practical reason for some of the legislation, too.

With another round of base closings coming up in two years, the state is doing everything it can to convince military officials that Florida's 23 installations should remain.

Duane H. Cassidy, a retired Air Force general who is co-chairman of the Governor's Advisory Council on Base Closures, said little things mean a lot when it comes to getting the Pentagon's attention.

"The support from the state level, as viewed by the Department of Defense, is very, very important," he said.

In addition to protecting its existing bases, Cassidy said, Florida is interested in getting units transferred to the state from bases that might be closed elsewhere.

But in the flurry of military bills this session, not everything passed.

A bill that would have required cities and counties to seek input from local base commanders on planning and zoning decisions affecting property near their bases died in the House Appropriations Committee.

Supporters said the bill would prevent encroachment on military bases by development that might be incompatible with their operations. For example, Cassidy said, having homes or businesses too close to an air base can force restrictions in flight operations because of noise problems.

Rep. Greg Evers, R-Milton, sponsor of the encroachment bill in the House, said he was unable to convince Appropriations Chairman Bruce Kyle, R-Fort Myers, that the expense was negligible.

"I was very upset, because it was the right thing to so," Evers said.

Fasano said the bill will be back: "It is a must-pass bill next year."

Budget considerations also sank another military initiative.

A bill that would have earmarked $2.5-million for military dependents from a program that provides corporate scholarships for private school education died when the Legislature failed to expand the program, currently limited to $50-million.

Gov. Jeb Bush will ask the Legislature to expand the program in the special session that begins Monday, and Fasano said he will file legislation again to reserve a part of the money for military dependents.

[Last modified May 9, 2003, 02:06:09]

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