Gov. Ron DeSantis signed six bills Thursday aimed at increasing access to higher education and employment for military veterans and streamlining state licensing and credentials for active-duty military members and their spouses.
He also reiterated his reasoning for pushing to reestablish the Florida State Guard, a state-level force similar to the Florida National Guard but answerable only to DeSantis, that will be able to help respond to natural disasters. The U.S. military’s requirement that troops receive a COVID-19 vaccine meant Florida needed its own force without a mandate, DeSantis said.
“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,” DeSantis said at a bill signing event in Fort Walton Beach.
“So we wanted to have our Guard that could 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 noted the new Florida State Guard will have 400 members and received $10 million in the upcoming budget year. He said applications were coming in and there would be another announcement soon on the Guard. His administration recently put out ads to recruit applicants to lead the new force.
The bills he signed include HB 45, which will waive tuition and fees for universities, colleges and technical education centers for disabled veterans if federal scholarships don’t pay the full amount. Another measure (SB 430) renews a federal compact among states to expedite school and records transfers for the children of military members deployed to a new state.
State agencies will now be able to accept military experience as a substitute for higher education degrees in evaluating job candidates after DeSantis signed SB 514, and veterans can do the same when applying for a temporary teacher certificate because of SB 896.
Spouses of active-duty military members seeking occupational licenses will have their applications expedited because DeSantis signed SB 562. And SB 438 updates state laws to include service in the U.S. Space Force, a new branch of the military begun under former President Donald Trump, in the definition of “uniformed service.”
All of the bills passed unanimously.