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Senators again squabble over help to military

Published February 16, 2012 12:14 pm

HB263 • Measure does win passage, but only after sometimes rocky debate.
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For the second day in a row, state senators engaged in a snippy debate on Thursday over whether the state is giving too many benefits to military families.

This time it was over HB263, a bill to give unemployment benefits to people who quit jobs to follow military spouses who are transferred out of state. The bill ended up passing 23-6, and was sent to Gov. Gary Herbert for his signature.

But it came after a few senators attacked it, saying members of the military have plenty of benefits and knew when they volunteered that their families may need to relocate.

One of the opponents was Senate Majority Leader Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, who on Wednesday also testily opposed a bill, which passed, to waive property taxes on residences of military members who are deployed out of state.

He said then that soldiers receive "all kinds of breaks. We pay for their clothing. We allow them to shop at the PX [post exchange]. And now ... you want me to pay for their taxes on their primary residence. I'm just saying enough." It led Democratic gubernatorial candidate Peter Cooke, a retired major general, to attack Jenkins for insensitivity.

Sen. Casey Anderson, R-Cedar City, led the charge on Thursday against the unemployment bill — including suggesting some military spouses might try to obtain jobs just before a transfer so they could enjoy unemployment benefits shortly thereafter.

He said he talked to relatives and friends in the military who said, "We knew what we were getting into when we signed up, and even if I have to quit my job to follow my husband, there's no way I would file a claim for unemployment benefits." He said it could set precedence for offering similar benefits for other federal employees who are transferred.

After Jenkins said the bill would bring little benefit to Utah National Guard members and would help only full-time military members who likely moved here from elsewhere, Sen. Karen Mayne, D-West Valley City, said, "When our good soldiers join the military they do not swear allegiance to each state, they have an allegiance to the United States of America."

Mayne, the Senate sponsor of the bill, said Utah is one of only 10 states that has not allowed military spouses to collect unemployment benefits for moves caused by transfers.

"Sometimes the non-military spouse is the main wage-earner," so transfers cause extra burden on military families, she said. Mayne added that state officials expect that "only a handful of people would ever use this per year."

Sen. Stuart Reid, R-Ogden, a former military chaplain, said most spouses of enlisted people must work "because our government doesn't pay them enough to provide for the household. ... Many of them are on food stamps, but they are willing to serve —¬†and thank God that they are."

He called the unemployment benefits for spouses "a minor contribution to those families that are in tremendous stress in every way."




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