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State lawmakers pass bill to give unemployment benefits to military spouses

Published: Thursday, Feb. 16 2012 6:03 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — State senators again debated extending special benefits to military families.

The issue Thursday was whether to allow working spouses of active duty soldiers who are transferred to another state to obtain unemployment benefits if they leave Utah.

"It's to keep families together," said Sen. Karen D-West Valley, Senate sponsor of HB263. "I think we owe that to them, this little pittance."

Not all senators, however, shared Mayne's view. Unlike in the House, the bill did not pass unanimously. The vote was 23-6 and it now goes to the governor.

Sen. Casey Anderson, R-Cedar City, said military families told him they knew what they were getting into when they enlisted and wouldn't apply for unemployment if they were transferred.

He said the bill sets a bad precedent and would lead to other areas of service receiving unemployment for voluntarily quitting a job. "If you work for the FBI, you often have to change locations," he said.

Utah touts and prides itself on being family friendly, and providing the benefits shows that, said Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo.

"This is a message bill and the message is we support men and women who are called to active duty and we support their families," he said. "We need to stand up and tell these brave men and women that we've got their back and were going to support them."

The cost is virtually immaterial, Bramble said.

Legislative fiscal analysts estimated 49 people would obtain the benefits, costing the state $185,000 over the next three years.

Sen. Stuart Reid, R-Ogden, said the spouses of enlisted people have to work because the government pays military service men and women so little. Families are on food stamps and under tremendous financial, emotional and physical stress, he said.

"I suppose there is a limit for what we do for them, but we are far away from that limit," he said.

Earlier this week, the Senate debated whether to grant soldiers called to active duty a property tax exemption on their houses.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, spoke strongly in opposition, calling it a "bleeding heart" measure. He also blasted a bill that passed Wednesday, giving military families a tax break for the time they are called up to active duty.

Jenkins and Anderson voted against the unemployment benefits bill Thursday as did Sens. Allen Christensen, R-North Ogden; Margaret Dayton, R-Orem; Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, and Stephen Urquhart, R-St. George.

E-mail: romboy@desnews.com Twitter: dennisromboy

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