South Carolina may be behind in defending itself against base closure, but a new Statehouse bill is designed to help the state play catch up.
An effort filed Wednesday takes what many see as a spread of separate pieces of pro-military legislation and groups them into one package meant to keep the Pentagon happy.
Called the "Military Family Quality of Life Enhancement Act," it brings together a collection of ideas the Department of Defense says supports retirees, active duty and their families. Others see it as a boost toward protecting at-risk installations against base closure.
Among the seven areas listed are:
Enhanced prohibitions against predatory lending.
Creation of a veteran's treatment court that diverts non-violent ex-military into treatment programs rather than civilian courts.
An easier path for residency status for military and their families when seeking in-state tuition, coming without the requirement of one year of physical presence in the state.
Bill sponsor Rep. Chip Limehouse said several of items on the 10-point list that's favored by the Pentagon are already in place here.
But he added there is a new sense of urgency to get the entire package adopted following Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's call last month for a national base closure review in 2017.
"It keeps South Carolina in play so they don't turn their backs on us and close the bases," Limehouse, R-Charleston, said of the plan. Others states are adopting similar packages as well.
South Carolina has seven significant military bases spread out across four communities that draw tens of thousands of active duty and retirees. Losing jobs in any one of these could be financially devastating.
The largest installation in the Charleston area is Joint Base Charleston - home of the Charleston Air Force Base, the Naval Weapons Station, and the high-tech Space and Naval Warfare Command Center known as SPAWAR. Collectively, the defense community adds more than $15 billion annually into South Carolina's economy.
State Rep. James Smith, D-Richland, a co-sponsor of the bill, said the effort helps protect "real jobs and real dollars" and that it recognizes that South Carolina needs to show it welcomes members of the U.S. military and their families.
Plus there is a measure of base protection involved. "Each military base is like another Boeing or a BMW," he said.
Other parts of the package include:
Allowing families to carry Medicaid enrollment if they are stationed outside of South Carolina.
Creation of a military-connected children's welfare task force.
Greater ease in using absentee ballots, among other suggestions.
Limehouse didn't have a dollar estimate of what enacting the entire package would cost. But he said the downside would be the loss of a military site, something that could cost severely in terms of jobs, housing and investment down the road.
"This is a comprehensive approach to base closure," he said.
The hope is to get the measure up for consideration in the next month or so, he said.
Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551.
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