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College aid bill on hold

Posted: May 18, 2009 10:31 p.m.
Updated: May 19, 2009 4:55 a.m.
 
The California budget crisis threatens to put the brakes on a proposed bill that would help California National Guard personnel pay for college.

California is the lone state in the country without a education benefit for its National Guard members, according to Los Angeles County Fifth District Supervisor Michael Antonovich.

And that position may not change any time soon.

Senate Bill 815, which would give California National Guard members money for college, was sent to the state Senate suspense file at the conclusion of the bill's Monday hearing.

"Any bill with a fiscal impact of more than $50,000 is sent to the suspense file," said David Lynch, consultant to state Senator George Runner, R-Lancaster. "During the suspense hearing, the best bills are picked from the file and get voted on."

The suspense file was originally used to rein in spending by forcing legislators to place bills with a fiscal impact of more than $150,000 into the file for further consideration, Lynch said. The state budget crisis cut that threshold by two-thirds to $50,000, he said.

The suspense hearing for SB 815 is scheduled for May 28.

If approved, SB 815 would make members of the California National Guard with two years of service eligible for an average of $4,800 per year to help with college tuition, Lynch said.

"The average amount is enough to pay for (one of the University of California) schools for a year," he said. However, California National Guard members would be eligible for up to $9,700 if they attend a private college, Lynch added.

Chris Weaver, legislative liaison officer for the California National Guard, said he doesn't know why the state's taken so long to address the educational needs of Guard members, but the bill comes at a critical time.

"In 2005, we did a survey of guardsmen and 74 percent said an education benefit would be the best way to keep our members in the Guard," he said.

With the expanding role of the California National Guard keeping guardsmen is critical. "Guardsmen serve on the front line of fires, disasters, earthquakes and civil unrest," Weaver said.

The Guard was called into service during 2007 wildfires in San Diego, where its members worked hand crews on the fire line and flew helicopters that dropped water on the fires.

With the legislation in limbo, Weaver said it will take a realization by the California legislators to push through the necessary spending bill. "It's going to come down to the legislators seeing the benefit to the state's national guard because this is a resource that belongs to California," he said. "The guardsmen are part of our community."

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