Assembly Majority Vote Insults NY Veterans

Legislative Column from Assembly Minority Leader Brian M. Kolb (R,C-Canandaigua)
April 12, 2019

This week in the Higher Education Committee, the Assembly Majority inexplicably voted against a bill that would have helped families of deceased and disabled U.S. soldiers. The legislation, A.2991 sponsored by Assemblyman Steve Hawley (R,C,I-Batavia), would have provided tuition, fees and room and board to the surviving family members of any New York veterans who died, are missing in action or became disabled performing official military duties.

The insulting defeat of this bill (by a vote of 15-11) comes roughly one week after New York Majority politicians passed a state budget that included $27 million to fund tuition grants for illegal immigrants through the DREAM Act.

Currently, through the Military Enhanced Recognition Incentive and Tribute (MERIT) scholarship, the state provides college costs to the children and spouses of those killed or severely disabled - but only in a combat zone or during related training operations. The proposal by the Assembly Minority would have expanded the MERIT criteria and eligibility, so surviving dependents of any veteran who loses their life or becomes disabled while performing their official duties qualifies for the state benefit.

In my 20 years in Albany, this is among the most egregious legislative acts I’ve witnessed. On the subject of college tuition, Majority politicians provided financial help to non-citizens. They have loudly and proudly supported free tuition for criminals in prison. But by their actions this week, they have rejected a measure to assist children whose mother or father paid the ultimate price for our country.

DEFENDING THE INDEFENSIBLE

The Chairwoman of the Committee on Higher Education, Deborah Glick (D-Manhattan), dismissed the bill as an “entitlement.” She argued that it should not advance because the state budget has been finalized and the veterans’ bill has financial impacts. Pure nonsense.

Assembly Majority twice passed the DREAM Act after the state budget was final, in 2013 and 2014. If the post-budget logic is to be believed, then the Assembly Majority’s remaining activity will not include their high-priority items like legalizing marijuana (massive budget implications) and single-payer health care (massive, devastating budget implications).

One member of the Committee on Higher Education actually co-sponsors the bill, supports the legislation but voted against moving it out of committee. That is the definition of party politics. There is right and there is wrong. And there is no question they were on the wrong side of this one.

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

From a technical standpoint, the bill isn’t dead. The Assembly Majority’s vote in committee simply blocked the bill from advancing to the floor for a vote by the full Assembly. Typically, that means no further action will be taken for the rest of the year.

But this isn’t a typical situation. The Assembly Majority politicians have the ability to reconsider the bill in committee, and move it to a full vote as it deserves. Even Gov. Cuomo (who not long ago declared “America was never that great”) agreed that the bill should be considered before the end of the 2019 Legislative Session.

As the father, son, brother and uncle of U.S. military veterans, I can only hope Assembly Majority politicians right the wrong that occurred this week.

What do you think? I want to hear from you. Send me your feedback, suggestions and ideas regarding this or any other issue facing New York State. You can always contact my district office at (315) 781-2030 or email me at kolbb@nyassembly.gov.