Assemblyman Kevin Cahill in a lengthy statement on Friday said he would support legislation meant to provide expanded tuition assistance to the children of veterans who have died while serving in the military.

But at the same time, Cahill criticized Republican lawmakers for pushing the bill this week, calling the effort a plan to “score political points” against Democrats.

The issue came to a head this week as Republicans in the state Assembly sought to press a bill that would do the same and the measure was blocked in a committee. But Cahill points to existing benefits for Gold Star families called the MERIT program, which provides four years of full-time tuition support for the spouses, children or financial dependents of a military member who died in a combat zone or preparation for one.

Cahill pointed to a bill that would expand the program to include families of military members who died outside of combat or training. He called efforts by Republicans “a shameful propaganda campaign” that ignored the original program.

“It would in fact expand the MERIT award beyond Gold Star families to include the survivors of those who died in the military outside of a combat zone or in preparation for entering a combat zone,” Cahill said. “The spirit and goal of this measure are laudable. It surely deserves and will get our complete review.”

And the news coverage generated by the push by Republican Assemblyman Steve Hawley, Cahill said, did not help.

“For these politicians to confuse and drag these families into their quest for attention is simply reprehensible,” Cahill said.

“As soon as the false publicity around the Hawley bill was circulated, old wounds were re-opened.  The brother of a young man who gave his life in Vietnam called my home early Wednesday morning from Florida under the mistaken belief that I voted against funding of the MERIT program.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Even though the recent state budget contained several items I did not favor, it included laudable programs like MERIT and unlike Mr. Hawley and his cohorts, I supported it.”

In a separate statement, Assemblywoman Deborah Glick, the Higher Education Committee chair, called it irresponsible to call for new spending outside of the agreed-upon state budget. But she also said she was open to changes as well.

“I am proud that the Assembly Democrats have fully funded the MERIT scholarship for children of military personnel that have been killed in combat for over 15 years,” she said. “I look forward to reviewing ways to continue to support our Gold Star families in the years to come.”