WASHINGTON—Illinois Lieutenant Governor Pat Quinn testified before a U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Veterans’ Affairs hearing on “Protecting the Rights of Those Who Protect Us”.
Quinn - the first elected state official to visit the troops in Iraq, Kuwait and Qatar - is leading a bipartisan nationwide movement to establish “Military Family Relief Trust Funds” in every state to assist families of National Guard members and reservists. Recently, Quinn led a successful legislative effort to amend the Illinois Human Rights Act to extend protections to military service members not afforded under the federal Uniform Services Employment and Reemployment Act of 1994.
Quinn offered testimony on behalf of the nonpartisan Council of State Governments and National Lieutenant Governors Association.
Congress is considering ways to better protect employees from discrimination if they are National Guard members or reservists called to federal active duty, and to protect the children of service members from disruption of their education due to change of residence. Currently, there are 160,956 National Guard members and reservists on active duty. These citizen soldiers leave behind more than 350,000 dependents, according to Defense Department statistics.
The first bill – the “Patriotic Employer Act of 2004” (House Bill 4477) – requires employers to post in the place of employment a description of the rights and benefits of National Guard members and reservists, including protection against job loss while on active duty.
“Rights are often violated by frontline supervisors who just don’t understand the law,” Quinn said. “The Patriotic Employer Act of 2004 reminds us that the modern-day patriots are the citizen soldiers, their families and employers.” Currently, employers conspicuously post information about job safety, equal employment opportunity laws, rights of the disabled and other protective statutes.
Another bill – the “Safeguarding Schoolchildren of Deployed Soldiers Act of 2004” (HB 3779) – would not penalize a child financially or educationally whose change of residence was due to the military service of one or both of the child’s parents. “At least 40 percent of National Guard and reservists families suffer financially when the breadwinner is called to active duty,” Quinn said. “The kids shouldn’t be asked to make a further sacrifice.”
The Illinois Military Family Relief Fund was set up last year to aid families of National Guard members and reservists. More than $1.3 million has been distributed to 2,500 families to help with rent, utility bills and other expenses. Quinn’s office runs a website, operationhomefront.org
describing how citizens can help the troops. Having registered more than 7.2 million hits, the site is among the most frequented military sites in government.