OKALOOSA COUNTY, Fla. – Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed six bills Thursday meant to boost access to occupational and educational opportunities for active duty service members, veterans and military families during a news conference at a Fort Walton Beach brewery.
“We’ve got a great military community, we’ve got great veterans who are really important parts of the community up here and so we’re very thankful for that, and in Florida we want to welcome that to continue,” DeSantis said. “When I was in the Navy, I was actually — my first duty station was in Northeast Florida — but when people would end up getting assigned in Florida, they would always maintain that Florida residence even if they got sent to Bremerton, Washington, or Norfolk, or all these other places, they always wanted to keep that.”
HB 45, “Educational Opportunities for Disabled Veterans,” provides in part that disabled veterans at a state university, Florida College System institution or school district-operated career center, who do not qualify for the 100% eligibility tier, are eligible for a waiver for tuition and fees. DeSantis said the legislation will “close the gap” in availability of assistance currently provided under the G.I. Bill.
SB 430, “Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children,” will add an eighth member to the state’s council on Interstate Educational Opportunity for Military Children in order to “increase and enhance Florida’s efforts to make sure that the children of active duty service members are able to transition in terms of education appropriately with seamless school placement, enrollment, records transfer and verification of graduation authorities,” DeSantis said.
SB 514, “Substitution of Work Experience for Postsecondary Educational Requirements,” will allow state agencies to substitute “verifiable, related work experience in lieu of postsecondary educational requirements” if the person seeking employment is “otherwise qualified” for it, the law states. The “work experience” may not substitute for any licensure, certification or registration an agency has established it requires, however. Though it does not solely target service members, DeSantis said the legislation will help veterans find more places to work.
“I think this is really significant, to substitute military experience for postsecondary education requirements so that veterans can apply for jobs that they are qualified for and not be hindered just because they don’t have some magic piece of paper which likely would have cost too much anyway,” DeSantis said. “... From a perspective of state agencies, if you give me somebody that served eight years in the Navy or the Marine Corps, that education is going to be much more beneficial and pertinent than someone that went $100,000 into debt to get a degree in zombie studies.”
SB 896, “Educator Certification Pathways for Veterans,” authorizes the Florida Department of Education to allow some service members to count their military experience toward a temporary educator certificate in place of a relevant bachelor’s degree.
SB 562, “Military Occupational Licensure,” will require the Department of Business and Professional Regulation to expedite occupational license applications of all active duty military spouses, what DeSantis said will streamline the often mired process of complying with a permanent change of station order.
Finally, SB 438, “United States Space Force,” updates Florida’s statutory definition of the term “uniformed service” to include the U.S. Space Force.
The governor was joined by Air Force Maj. Gen. James O. Eifert, adjutant general of the Florida National Guard, retired Marine Corps Maj. Gen. James S. Hartsell, executive director of the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs, and Henry Mack, senior chancellor of the Florida Department of Education.
“These bills will go a long way to helping both our active duty and our National Guard citizen soldiers and their spouses have opportunities for meaningful employment. Solid career opportunities lead to a well-rounded and ready force, and a stable home environment prepares our guardsmen and their families for deployments to include disaster response right here in the state,” Eifert said.
DeSantis also spoke about the Florida State Guard, a renewed WWII-era state defense force under the governor’s exclusive command that he said will welcome people turned away by the military for refusing a COVID-19 vaccination.
“Part of what precipitated this was you had the federal government imposing these mandates on the military as a whole but even on the National Guard, which they have some administrative control over. and so we wanted to make sure we had our guard that can perform similar functions, but that would not be captive to some of these misguided federal mandates. They are kicking people out of the military who served with honor and distinction over these COVID shots,” DeSantis said. “... And so we’re going to be able to, I think, really expand the number of individuals just generally, which is important, but then probably be a landing spot for people who have been marginalized due to these federal mandates, and so the the military’s loss will be the state of Florida’s gain.”
The governor said the guard is gaining new applicants and he would have more to announce “very soon.”