The Missouri Returning Heroes' Education Act, sponsored by Sen. Maida Coleman, D-St. Louis, would limit tuition charged by public universities to combat veterans at $50 per credit hour of undergraduate coursework.
"Everybody seems to understand the importance that our military personnel has provided and believes that the state should be supportive of their educational options," Coleman said.
The bill would also require combat veterans, defined as Missouri residents who served in armed combat after Sept. 11, 2001, and who were discharged honorably, to maintain a grade point average of 2.5 in order to receive the tuition limitation.
Sen. Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph, introduced an amendment that would make funds available for veterans dependent on money appropriated by the legislature.
He said his concern with the bill is who will be responsible for paying for it. If an average student pays $300 per credit hour and veterans pay $50, someone must pick up the $250 difference, Shields said.
"We as a state ought to pay for that, versus colleges and universities doing a cost shift over to other students," Shields said. "It either gets cost-shifted back to the students, which is what your bill will do, or it will get cost-shifted back to the state, which is what my amendment will do."
But Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, said Shields' amendment caters to the University of Missouri-Columbia.
"This is an amendment to kill the bill," Crowell said. "It infuriates me to no end that you're yielding to the 'gimme, gimme, gimme' university."
He said it should not matter where the funds come from.
"We give enough money to that university that they could put another chair in that classroom and educate these veterans accordingly," he said.
Coleman said many negotiations took place with MU in an effort to finally get the bill passed.
"We've made a lot of concessions in bringing this legislation out of committee and on to this floor, but they keep wanting more," she said.
UM System Spokesperson Scott Charton said the university wants the legislature to make a fiscally responsible decision.
"We have asked for support in finding ways to help pay for the bill," he said. "We have the greatest respect for the men and women who serve our country as evidenced through our efforts in the system's many financial aid offices."
But Charton said the legislature should be responsible for its own idea.
"If it's worthy of the state's attention, it's worthy of the state's financial support," he said.
A legislative staff report on the bill's estimated costs noted that the university previously had estimated a $2.4 million cost for an earlier version of the proposal.
Shields eventually withdrew his amendment, but he said he is still concerned over where the funds for the veterans will come from.
"We all want to be patriotic," he said. "The question is whose money are we being patriotic with."
The measure, given initial approval by voice vote, requires a final roll-call vote before it can go to the House.