NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Democrats in Albany may be having second thoughts about blocking a bill that would help children of injured or fallen veterans go to college.
John Raguso raised his hero son, Christopher, on Long Island. The Air National Guardsman gave his life for his country when his helicopter went down in Iraq last year.
He left behind a wife and two children.
"The fact that some children wouldn't be eligible for this free college that we're talking about is an absolute travesty of justice," John Raguso said.
Raguso is angry that a bill expanding a scholarship program for families of fallen or injured veterans was rejected by a Democrat-led, state assembly committee in Albany.
"The chairwoman called this an 'entitlement,' Assemblyman Doug Smith of Long Island's 5th District said.
"In a budget of $175 billion, the fact that we can't put together a few hundred thousand for these families and these children is unconscionable."
As the ranking Republican on higher education, Smith said he was stunned when the committee voted 15-11 to block children of service members from receiving a free college at SUNY schools.
If their parent wasn't "killed or injured in combat," they are ineligible; that also includes if their parents were hurt or died while "training."
The committee instead approved $27 million in tuition assistance to so-called "dreamers" – students brought to the country by their parents illegally when they were children.
"Taxpayer money for free college for illegal immigrants… yet struck down a bill that provides free college tuition to gold star families. Absolutely wrong and insulting," Assemblyman Michael Lipetri of Long Island's 9th District added.
CBS2's Jennifer McLogan spoke to Senate Democrats about the seemingly hypocritical position.
"I do not know what happened in the assembly chambers," Monica Martinez said.
"We shouldn't be playing politics with gold star families," Jim Gaughran added.
"It's not about Democrat or Republican, it's about doing the right thing," Todd Kaminsky declared.
They all pledged to make it happen for veterans' children.
Gov. Cuomo claimed it would take a "legal change" and he supports the measure. Cuomo added he would like to get the money added to the veterans program before the legislative session ends in June.
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