Saturday, June 30, 2007

What Do Alcoholic Beverages And Higher Education For Texas’ Veterans Have In Common?

No, I’m serious, there is a connection.

In a Chron article today, we learn that Gulf War veteran William Sanchez has been denied a waiver of college tuition and fees guaranteed to other Texas veterans by the
Hazlewood Act. So he has joined in a federal lawsuit that has been filed in San Antonio by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

Apparently there is a hole in the Hazlewood Act that excludes people who are not citizens of the United States. This hole was to be repaired by legislation sponsored by Letitia van de Putte (D-San Antonio) and Rick Noriega (D-Houston). The bill failed in the last legislative session, leaving the hole unfilled.

Of this failure and the situation faced by thousands of Texas veterans, Rick Noriega said:
“Our government says that you're OK to join the military and fight overseas, and when you return you're afforded GI Bill benefits. But, the state of Texas says if you're a Texan and fight overseas, you're not afforded Texas benefits. It's a real hypocrisy.”
Where is this hole and how did it come to be?

First, you need to answer this question: What is the difference between a “resident” of Texas and a “citizen” of Texas? At first blush you will say, there IS no difference and you might be right. In actual fact, when you look at any given time requirement in the Texas Education Code, which the Hazlewood Act amends, you will find that there is a “residency requirement” of 12 months. Yes, you must be a resident of Texas for 12 months before you can attend a Texas public institution of higher education and not pay out-of-state fees.

And that’s a good law. Texas’ higher education institutions benefit from local taxes that Texas residents pay. Out-of-staters, aka “foreigners”, need to pay a surcharge since they have not paid into supporting the schools in other ways.

But if you look at the Hazlewood Act, you see two actual requirements. The benefit is available to all veterans who “were citizens of Texas at the time they entered the services indicated and have resided in Texas for at least the period of 12 months before the date of registration”.

Now I look at that and say well of course, they have to have come from Texas when they entered the service, and they had to have been paying into the various ways the state raises revenue. No problem.

Yes problem.

It caused Letitia van de Putte to send a letter to Attorney General Greg Abbott seeking clarification:
“It is significant that the act explicitly requires both Texas citizenship and residency which may indicate that lawmakers viewed citizenship and residency as distinct requirements. The two requirements may have been conflated because of the lack of an explicit definition of citizenship.”
All Abbott had to do was to view these two requirements as separate as I have done, and not fused as suggested by van de Putte.


“Texas citizen” is not statutorily defined, which, I think, is the point that van de Putte was making.

But give Greg Abbott enough rope and he’ll find a way to tie a noose. He (or most probably someone on his staff) found a definition of “Texas citizen” in the statutes. Once, but that was enough. It is found in the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code. In his opinion, Abbott writes:

“only the Alcoholic Beverage Code defines it: "In this code . . . '[c]itizen of Texas' and 'citizen of this state' mean a person who is a citizen of both the United States and Texas." Tex. Alco. Bev. Code Ann. § 1.04(20) (Vernon 1995).”
Oh boy, that one is a stretcher isn’t it? One has to have one long arm to reach for that one, but Greg Abbott is equal to the task. That discovery, and Abbott’s acceptance of it as a valid definition, dumped a load of cock-a-doodle on thousands of Texas veterans. Those who served their country, some who went to war, and some who faced bullets and IEDs.

When Rick Noriega called this a “real hypocrisy” I think he was being polite.

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