Monday, October 19, 2009

New legal, financial protections stall out (Army Times)

A legislative update in Army Times:

New legal, financial protections stall out

By Rick Maze - Staff writer
Posted : Tuesday Oct 13, 2009 12:00:58 EDT

"Improvements in legal and financial protections for troops and their families were removed from the final version of the 2010 defense authorization bill because of questions about which congressional committee is responsible for changes to the Servicemembers’ Civil Relief Act.
The decision by congressional negotiators leaves in limbo the Military Spouse Residency Relief Act that the Senate had added to the annual defense policy bill and an expansion of the types of contracts that can be canceled or suspended without penalty for service members who are deployed or transferred to a new duty station. That provision, involving cellular phone service, Internet and cable services, and utilities, was part of the House-passed defense bill.
Jurisdiction over the Servicemembers’ Civil Relief Act rests with the House and Senate veterans’ affairs committees, which objected to having the provision included in HR 2647, the defense authorization act for fiscal 2010. Removal of the provision was one of the many compromises made by congressional negotiators as they prepared a final defense bill, which the House passed Oct. 8. The Senate is expected to vote on the final defense bill this week.
What happens with the military spouse and contract cancellation legislation depends on the veterans’ committees, which are slow to pass compromise legislation.

The Senate passed the military spouse residency bill as separate legislation Aug. 4, and it is now pending in the House.

However, the record of the House and Senate getting identical veterans bills passed and signed into law is slight.

1 veterans bill passed

Nineteen veterans-related bills have passed the House of Representatives this year, but only one has also passed the Senate and been signed into law. That measure provided the same cost-of-living adjustment to veterans and their survivors as is received Dec. 1 by Social Security recipients, which this year is likely be no increase. A second veterans’ bill, providing advance funding for Veterans Affairs Department medical programs beginning in 2011, passed the House last week and is expected to pass the Senate this week.

The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee’s economic opportunity panel has taken the first step in resurrecting the spouse residency and contract cancellation proposals. The subcommittee met last week to approve HR 1182, its version of the military spouse residency provisions involving homeownership, voting rights, taxation and other residency issues, and HR 2874, which would expand protections from contract termination fees.

Passage of the two bills by the full House Veterans’ Affairs Committee could happen as early as Oct. 28, aides said.

House and Senate aides said they believe the two veterans’ affairs committees will reach a compromise on an omnibus bill that could include the provision stripped from the defense bill, but they were not willing to predict when that might happen.

Spouse residency

The residency bill for spouses includes a provision that would allow spouses accompanying service members on official reassignments to keep their voter registration in a state where they no longer live and let them vote by absentee ballot in federal, state and local elections. Another provision would allow spouses to maintain residency in another state for tax purposes as a result of an official move by a service member.

The contract cancellation bill pending in the House would make changes in termination provisions all ready in law;

Current law allows service members to cut a cell phone contract without having to pay a termination fee if they deploy or make a permanent change-of-station move. The bill would extend this penalty-free cancellation right to family cell phone plans.

Also, HR 2874 would protect service members from having to pay an early termination fee for canceling a residential lease. Such cancellation is allowed under current law, but service members may have to pay termination fees.

Current law allows service members who are deploying or moving to a new assignment to cancel motor vehicle leases with no termination penalties."

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