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New bill expands scholarship eligibility for families of fallen Idaho troops, public safety personnel

A Boise Democrat and North Idaho Republican have put forward a bill that would address the loss of servicemembers killed in training.

BOISE, Idaho — The families of military service members who were killed during training exercises may soon be eligible for college scholarships as part of a bill introduced in the Idaho Legislature.

Rep. Chris Mathias (D-Boise) introduced the legislation because he found out the eight children of the three Idaho Army National Guard pilots killed in a helicopter crash during training last February in the mountains east of Boise were not eligible for the Idaho's Armed Forces and Public Safety Dependent scholarship. 

Currently, the scholarship is only available to children and spouses of those killed, permanently disabled, missing or imprisoned while serving in combat.

Mathias on Tuesday recalled his reaction when he found out: "Their parents were wearing their uniforms when they passed, how could they not be eligible?"

House Bill 461 would update Idaho law to allow children and spouses of those killed in active-duty or inactive-duty training to be eligible for scholarships. It also would apply to families of law enforcement officers, firefighters and paramedics.

"This is about making sure our children have the opportunities that their parents have earned for them," Mathias said.

The scholarship was created in 1972 and, according to Mathias, it has only been denied once in the last two decades.

"To me, higher education and military service are American institutions that provide extremely important opportunities to individuals that make America fantastic, make Idaho fantastic," said Mathias, who is a U.S. Coast Guard veteran.

According to the Idaho State Board of Education, the scholarship would provide a waiver of tuition and fees plus up to $500 per semester for books in addition to on-campus housing at an Idaho public college or university.

"The legislature already appropriates $200,000 for this scholarship every year, as part of the Opportunity Scholarship's bucket of funds," Mathias said. "There is plenty of room in the account already, so passing this law isn't going to have a fiscal impact on the taxpayer."

Mathias calls the bill "unpartisan" and said when he introduced the bill Tuesday, members of the House Education Committee were just as shocked as he was to hear about those who didn't qualify for the funds. The committee voted to introduce the bill, which is co-sponsored by Sen. Jim Woodward (R-Sagle). That means it has been printed, been assigned a bill number, and will likely get a full hearing.

"We are so fortunate to be in a time and place that supports and values military service, our members and our families. We look forward to learning more about this proposed legislation in the coming days," said Idaho National Guard Lt. Col. Christopher Borders in a written statement to KTVB.

The three pilots killed in the February 2021 helicopter crash were 43-year-old Chief Warrant Officer 4 Jesse Anderson of Boise, 39-year-old Chief Warrant Officer 3 George “Geoff” Laubhan of Boise and 43-year-old Chief Warrant Officer 3 Matthew Peltzer of Nampa.

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