House passes two bills affecting those in military

The House passed two bills that would affect the Transportation Security Administration’s hiring of military personnel and ­child-custody rights for service members during deployment.

The House approved by voice vote a bill that would have the TSA comply with the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, a 1994 law that requires employers to hold jobs for employees, such as reservists, called to active duty.

“We have USERRA protections in place for a reason, and this bill simply ensures that the thousands of veterans, reservists and members of the National Guard working for TSA are protected as they would be in any other position,” said Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.), the author of the bill.

TSA was exempted from the uniformed services act in the haste to fill tens of thousands of new positions when the agency was created after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. With war in Afghanistan imminent at the time, legislators were worried too many people would be hired who would then be deployed to combat zones, said Raymond Kelley, legislative director for the Veterans of Foreign Wars, which has lobbied for the legislation. While the provision made sense then, Kelley said, its time has passed.

“It’s also positive for TSA because the people who would be most responsible for protecting airports are those who served in uniform,” he said.

TSA says it complies with the law, but Walz said the requirement will keep future administrations from backtracking on the commitment.

The House passed a bill 390 to 2 that would prohibit family-law courts from using military deployments as a factor in determining child-custody rights. The bill was proposed by Rep. Michael R. Turner (R-Ohio). To qualify for the legal protection, individuals would have to be subject to military orders that prohibit family members from accompanying them on assignments from 60 days to 18 months in length.

Turner, in remarks on the floor Wednesday, said family-law courts often cite deployments as reasons not to grant custody of a child. “We should not have one arm of the government ordering our service members to deploy and another arm of our government taking their children away from them based upon the fact that they were away serving their country,” he said.

Lawmakers said inconsistencies in the current provisions allow courts to use deployment as a factor in determining custody.

“The sovereignty of parenthood should not be forfeited by taking the oath of office to serve one’s country in uniform . . . This is morally clear, it is legally correct,” said Rep. Robert E. Andrews (D-N.J.), one of 72 co-sponsors.

The TSA bill advances to the Senate, where similar legislation, sponsored by Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), is being considered by the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. The child-custody bill also advances to the Senate. The House has passed similar language seven times before, but it has failed to pass the Senate each time.



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