Raleigh, N.C. — A group of legislators who served in the military introduced seven bills Monday that would increase protections and benefits for the National Guard and other service members.
The bipartisan effort comes on the heels of the early March announcement that at least 2,500 Fort Bragg troops will head to Iraq and Afghanistan to support anti-Islamic State efforts.
Rep. Grier Martin, D-Wake, said he pushed the bills because there is inconsistency between protections for Guard members called to federal active duty, which often includes deploying to the Middle East or other countries, and those called to state active duty, which often includes fighting forest fires and floods.
"There are significant protections in federal law right now for folks called to federal active duty, but they don’t exist as much when you’re called to state active duty," Martin said. "We have bills here that will help address that disparity."
One of several bills offers protections for military members who have to end their rental agreements early because they were deployed or required to move, while another offers similar protections for other contracts, such as cable television or internet service agreements.
The legislators also filed a bill that would require employers of National Guard members released from state active duty to re-employ them within five days of their release.
"It brings it home when you drive in Fort Bragg and see [service members] working together, knowing they’re going to deploy together," said Rep. John Szoka, R-Cumberland, another primary sponsor of the batch of bills. "They need to know that they’re going to be supported at home."
Two of the bills relate to education. One would allow tuition assistance to be used on professional certificate programs, such as Microsoft Office training, while the other prevents University of North Carolina schools and state community colleges from academically penalizing Guard members placed on active duty, requiring them to either provide an avenue to withdraw or make up missed coursework.
Martin said he hopes to see the bills pass because of their bipartisan nature and low cost.
"They shouldn’t cost anything. The tuition assistance bill just takes existing money, whatever money is budgeted, and expands the uses for it," he said.