The 1991 Legislature has praised all Utahns serving in the gulf war, but the biggest boost state employees called to active military duty are likely to get this session won't need lawmaker approval.
Gov. Norm Ban-gerter has announced he plans to continue medical and life insurance for the close to 70 state workers in the National Guard or Armed Services Reserves and their dependents."We're going to do everything we can to make them as comfortable as possible," the governor said. "We want to send a strong message to all employers in Utah that this is the minimum we would like them to do."
Even though their support isn't needed to secure the insurance benefits, which carry a price tag of more than $250,000, legislative leaders enthusiastically endorse the governor's proposal.
"Those guys have their butts in the hot desert for us. The least we can do is look out for their families," said House Minority Leader Frank Pignanelli, D-Salt Lake.
House Speaker Craig Moody, R-Sandy, said even though the cost amounts to "a little bit of money," the GOP caucus agreed with the governor that something needs to be done for state employees sent overseas.
Moody also said he hopes the governor's proposal, which would provide for state employees and their dependents through the end of the fiscal year on June 30, sets an example for other Utah employers.
Legislative approval is not needed to spend the money because the funds for the state's share of employee medical and life insurance premiums have already been budgeted for the current fiscal year.
Since most of the replacements hired for the military men and women are temporary and don't receive benefits, the money already budgeted for the premiums isn't being spent.
And although some state departments, like Public Safety, are having to pay overtime to other employees to make up for those called up to military duty, no one is asking for financial help yet.
Currently, the only options the military men and women have now once they run out of leave time are to either pick up the full cost of their coverage themselves or drop the state policy and take military insurance.
Both options have drawbacks. Covered state employees pay only 10 percent of the cost of their insurance. The full cost of their insurance amounts to more than $400 a month.
The military insurance policy is free but isn't as extensive as the coverage the state provides. Plus the policy's restrictions may force families to travel to military bases for treatment instead of local facilities.
Lawmakers are looking at other ways to help Utah's soldiers in the gulf. So far this session, three bills dealing with Operation Desert Storm have been filed.
One, HCR8, has already been signed by the governor. The concurrent resolution of the Legislature and the governor recognizes the sacrifices made by both the men and women in Utah's Armed Services and their families.
A bill filed by Rep. Janet Rose, D-Salt Lake, would provide a state income tax exemption for the first $15,000 of military pay earned through military service outside the United States. Rose's bill, HB178, has not yet been assigned to a House committee for a hearing.
Sen. Glade Nielsen, R-Roy, also wants to give something back to service personnel. His bill, SB80, would refund fees they paid for a hunting license, certificate, tag or permit.
First, though, the Desert Storm soldiers have to prove to the state that they were "precluded from being able to participate in the hunting or fishing activity as a result of being called to active duty."
While the governor's proposal for extending benefits expires about six months after the start of the gulf war, Nielsen's bill would continue to provide refunds through July 1, 1993.