- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 12, 2014

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Two candidates for Arkansas governor sparred Tuesday over a plan to provide in-state tuition benefits to veterans returning from service overseas.

Republican Asa Hutchinson proposed letting returning veterans enroll at Arkansas colleges and universities at lower, in-state, tuition rates regardless of how long they have lived in the state. His opponent, Democrat Mike Ross, said the plan wasn’t necessary and that Hutchinson wasn’t abreast of recent actions in Congress.

According to Hutchinson, Arkansas veterans still need his plan because colleges and universities have the option of taking part in lower-tuition programs. His plan would require participation by the schools.

“Right now, a returning veteran may be required to pay out of state tuition if he or she has not established residency in Arkansas,” he said in a statement. “Surely, we can waive the residency requirement for our returning veterans. This will be another incentive for them to return to Arkansas or choose to make Arkansas their new home.”

Both candidates are former congressmen locked in a tight battle to replace Gov. Mike Beebe, who cannot run for re-election because of term limits. The election is Nov. 4.

Ross said veterans already enjoy protection under a recent act of Congress signed by President Barack Obama last week. The Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act opens in-state tuition to veterans and their dependents. Earlier tuition programs did not cover the difference in tuition costs between in-state and out-of-state students, Ross said, citing information from the National Conference of State Legislatures.

“Congressman Hutchinson’s vague press release falls far short of the strong support and bold leadership our veterans deserve,” Ross spokesman Brad Howard said.

Hutchinson spokesman Christian Olson said Hutchinson is aware of how far the law goes.

“It is inaccurate to say that we aren’t aware of the federal law that was signed last week,” he said in an email to The Associated Press. “That law penalizes schools that don’t offer instate tuition to veterans, but still ultimately leaves the decision up to the school. That’s why Asa’s plan to require Arkansas schools to offer instate tuition is still needed.”