Sen. Jose Rodriguez's statement on SB1735

AUSTIN – State Sen. José Rodríguez submitted the following statement to the Senate Journal following the vote on Senate Bill 1735, which in an attempt to cut costs, restricts higher education benefits conferred on veterans, and their children and dependents: 

The Hazlewood Act was created by the Texas Legislature as a way for this State to show its gratitude to the courageous men and women who served this nation in the armed services by repaying that service with the valuable promise of a public education.  

In 2009, the Legislature saw fit to allow veterans to pass on that benefit to their dependent children and spouses by creating a Legacy program. In that time, Texas families have certainly intended to rely upon the promise of an education this Legislature made. Because I believe this bill reneges on that promise, and because I believe rising costs to universities under Hazlewood would be addressed if this same Legislature prioritized appropriate spending for Texas public colleges and universities, I must respectfully vote no on Senate Bill 1735.

I take special exception with two provisions of SB 1735. First, I cannot support limiting Hazlewood eligibility to those who served in active duty for at least six years because I believe it would disqualify too many veterans who served in America’s most recent conflicts. According to the American Legion, most individuals who served post-September 11, 2001 served only four years active duty. 

Further, this time limitation also does not take into account individuals who left the service after less than six years through no fault of their own, for example, because of an injury sustained during service that leaves them less than 100 percent disabled.

Second, I believe requiring that an individual’s Hazlewood eligibility expire after only 15 years will foreclose on too many dependent children qualifying for Legacy. Under this bill, only children living during a veteran’s service time, and old enough to graduate from high school before 15 years have elapsed, would qualify. I cannot agree with proponents of this provision who argue that limiting Legacy is appropriate because qualifying dependents should have “shared the burden” of service by dealing with the absence of one or more parent. 

This was a consideration the Legislature could have taken into account in 2009. Again, since that time families have relied upon the promise of passing on Hazlewood eligibility. I represent a community with a large veteran population and can attest to the challenges veterans face when returning from service, including unemployment and homelessness. I seriously worry that for many veterans, earned Hazlewood benefits may be the one thing a large number of struggling veterans could hope to pass on to their children.

Finally, if the concern Senate Bill 1735 seeks to address is rising costs to universities, I strongly believe that the solution should be to increase funding to public universities to offset that cost. This session lawmakers had a budget surplus from which it could have chosen to invest in services that benefit veterans and their families, including Hazlewood.  Instead, this Legislature would pass more than $4 billion in tax cuts which will do little to improve the lives of these families. I find that unconscionable.

For the foregoing reasons, I must respectfully vote no on Senate Bill 1735.
José Rodríguez represents Texas Senate District 29, which includes the counties of El Paso, Hudspeth, Culberson, Jeff Davis, and Presidio. He represents both urban and rural constituencies, and more than 350 miles of the Texas-Mexico border. Senator Rodríguez currently serves as the Chairman of the Senate Hispanic Caucus, and is a member of the Senate Committees on Education; Health and Human Services; Veteran Affairs and Military Installations; Nominations; and Agriculture, Water, and Rural Affairs.