Hazlewood benefit to Texas veterans under fire

On Jan. 9, the U.S. Supreme Court denied a rehearing on Harris v. Hahn, a federal case challenging the constitutionality of the state’s Hazlewood Act. The Hazlewood Act is a benefit program that provides qualified veterans, spouses, and dependent children with education benefits of up to 150 hours of tuition, including most fee charges, at public institutions of higher education in Texas.

The court decision is a major victory for Texas veterans and their families.

The benefit is specifically limited to Texas veterans — those who resided in the state at the time of their enlistment. The federal case challenged this "resident-at-time-of-enlistment" requirement. Had this challenge been successful, it would have opened the door to many more people, making the program substantially more expensive and threatening its viability. This was a major concern for lawmakers during the last legislative session. I hope the Supreme Court's decision alleviates those concerns and we as a legislature stand by our promise to our veterans and their families.

I stood up for the plain language of Hazlewood last session and I am relieved the court has settled this legal battle, leaving the program intact for future generations of Texas veterans and their families. But some in the Texas Legislature might have other plans.

Despite failed efforts to scale back the program last session and the Supreme Court's validation, there are whispers around the Capitol of renewed efforts to scale back this benefit. 

The Hazlewood Act dates back to the 1920s. In 2009, the Legislature extended its promise to veterans' children in the "Hazlewood Legacy Program" because 'when veterans serve, their families serve.' At the time, the Legislature committed to paying its fair share of the cost to colleges and universities in Texas — but every year since, it has failed to hold up its end of the bargain.

Some lawmakers might think the program is too expensive and that the benefits need to be scaled back in order to reduce costs. But this concern for fiscal conservatism hasn't stopped lawmakers from spending money on tax credits for billion-dollar corporations, sales tax exemptions on gun sales, tax breaks for yacht buyers, and billions on border security.  

On the day before the current session began, we also learned that the state's revenue projection has declined, leaving us with less money to spend on state programs. Now, more than ever, the Legislature needs to have clear priorities on spending. I firmly believe that preserving Hazlewood as-is for our veterans and their families should be a priority for lawmakers.

Come election time, members will wrap themselves with the U.S. flag, stump at V.F.W. or American Legion posts, march in Veterans Day parades, and promise veterans that we will look out for them and their families.

Last legislative session, veterans were caught off guard by the efforts to scale-back Hazlewood. Today, they are paying attention and watching to see if the Legislature puts its money where its mouth is. 

As a veteran, preserving Hazelwood and keeping our promise to our veterans is very important and personal to me. Just like the G.I. Bill, Hazelwood has given so many Texas veterans and their families opportunities they would not have without higher education. Because education is so important in opening up economic opportunities for oneself and family, I believe the Hazelwood program is one of the biggest ways we can honor and thank those who selflessly served our country.

With the Supreme Court's validation of Hazlewood, Texas should keep its promise to our veterans and their families.

To all my fellow Texas veterans and your families: I got your six!

César Blanco

State Representative, District 76