Bill would reopen 9/11 scholarships

Associated Press

SACRAMENTO — The Senate Public Safety Committee easily approved a bill Tuesday that would reopen a scholarship program for the relatives of Californians who died in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

SB 384 by Sen. Ted Gaines, R-Rocklin, and two Democratic lawmakers comes after an investigation by The Associated Press and a subsequent state audit found that the 9/11 Memorial Scholarship Program was poorly administered and that state officials failed to notify many of those who were eligible before the application deadline.

The bill, co-authored by Sen. Mark DeSaulnier and Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, both Democrats from Concord, passed on a 4-0 consent vote.

Residents of California, where all four jetliners were bound when they were hijacked, have bought or renewed the memorial license plates more than 200,000 times since 2002, spending $50 apiece to buy the plates and $40 a year to renew them. They believed they were helping family members of September 11 victims attend college as part of a law passed in May 2002.

About 15 percent of the $16.5 million the state has collected so far from selling the specialty 9/11 memorial license plates was to be earmarked for the family members of September 11 victims to attend college. That would have made $2.2 million available for scholarships, but the AP’s review found that just $21,381 had reached the children and spouses of the three dozen California residents killed then.

The scholarship program closed to new applicants in 2005, but the proposed legislation would reopen applications until July 2015.

The three lawmakers and Gov. Jerry Brown requested the audit of the state’s entire specialty license plate program after the AP’s investigation last year. The audit confirmed that the 20-year-old program is rife with problems.

The California Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board, whose responsibility it was to notify eligible participants, said it disagrees with the auditor’s methodology.

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