A bill that would provide state benefits to LGBT veterans dismissed from the military with a less than honorable discharge because of their sexual orientation or gender identity or expression is poised to head to Gov. Jared Polis’ desk after it cleared the House on a broad bipartisan vote.
After clearing the Senate unanimously in February, House lawmakers on Monday voted 47-16 on final passage of Senate Bill 21-026. The bill would make LGBT veterans eligible for tuition assistance available to the military, teaching grants, burial at the Homelake Veterans Cemetery in Monte Vista or any other state-owned veterans cemetery and hunting licenses for which veterans do not need to take a hunter safety course.
“No one who is willing to put their life at risk to serve our country should be prevented from accessing the benefits they earned because of who they love or how they identify,” said Rep. David Ortiz, a Littleton Democrat who sponsored the bill in the House. “Coming home and reintegrating into your community after military service is hard enough without facing the additional stigma of being unjustly discharged. I’m proud that we were able to deliver some relief for my brothers and sisters in the armed forces today.”
The chamber did not discuss the bill on Monday, though a group of Republican House members expressed concern over elements of the proposal when it was up for second reading last week.
Rep. Patrick Neville, a Castle Rock Republican who served in the U.S. Army and said he had chaptered over 60 people out of that branch of the military as a commander, noted discharges under the Uniform Code of Military Justice can be “very complex.”
“A lot of times I had to make a decision to maybe chapter under a different section in UCMJ than what could have actually been prosecuted in civilian law,” he said. “Sometimes there's a discharge that doesn't reflect the whole picture that we're looking at here just in UCMJ because I didn't want to look like we were doing double jeopardy and doing two types of prosecutions against someone at the same time.”
Neville was among the 16 GOP lawmakers in the House that voted against the measure.
The bill now heads back to the Senate after the House approved a pair of amendments. Polis praised the legislation in his State of the State address earlier this year and said he was “excited” to sign it into law.