Home Statewide Politics Alaska House Hears Measure to Protect National Guard Members Serving Outside Home...

Alaska House Hears Measure to Protect National Guard Members Serving Outside Home State

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Photo by the National Guard, Creative Commons Licensing.

Two days after hearing a bill allowing private employers to express a military veteran hiring preference, the House Military & Veterans’ Affairs Committee heard a bill that would protect National Guard members’ jobs when they are called to duty by another state.

The federal Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) protects the jobs of Guard members called to duty by the federal government.

The one weekend per month Guard members must drill and a separate two-week drill period are considered federal service covered by USERRA.

Alaska law additionally protects Alaskans called to Guard duty by the State.

Alaska guard members have recently been called by the State to fight wildfires, as well as clear snow in Cordova in 2012.

These call-ups are expensive and typically last five days or less, but “It’s completely up to the governor,” Department of Military & Veterans’ Affairs (DMVA) Deputy Commissioner Bob Doehl said during Thursday’s hearing.

Some members live and work in a state that differs from where they serve in the Guard. USERRA and Alaska statutes do not protect these service members when they are called to duty by a governor.

HB 3, introduced by House Majority Leader and Military & Veterans’ Affairs Chair Chris Tuck (D-Anchorage), would guarantee a leave of absence for Alaskans called to Guard duty by other states. The bill also protects the jobs of those service members when they return to Alaska from duty.

“Many Alaskans with civilian jobs in Alaska, who serve in the National Guard of another state, risk losing those jobs when mobilized by the state where they serve. By revising wording in your existing state statute to recognize ‘members of the National Guard of this state and any other state’ this problem can be alleviated,” the office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, Military Community and Family Policy, wrote in a letter of support.

28 states have passed a similar law.

“This is a nationwide effort to ensure those who serve their nation for all 50 states when called to duty — regardless of their service location — will have reemployment rights to their Alaskan civilian job after completing the various critical duties when called by a governor for state active duty,” Tuck said in a sponsor statement.

It is not unusual to have Guard members living in different states than those they serve.

As an example, Doehl said a student going to school out-of-state might join the Guard in that state to avoid costly trips back home for drill, expenses that are borne by Guard members.

A retired Guard colonel, Doehl said he personally experienced three occasions where his state of residence and his state of Guard service did not match.

Most Guard members will file for an interstate transfer when they move to another state, said Doehl, but the transfers can take six- to eight months and are dependent upon the new state Guard being able to accommodate the member’s rank and skills.

Except for specific jobs within the Guard that require short response times, Doehl said there is no limit on the distance a member can live away from her duty location.

DMVA and the Department of Labor & Workforce Development do not expect that HB 3 will have any fiscal impact on their departments.

Mark San Souci, the Northwest Regional Liaison for the Department of Defense (DoD), testified that at least 33 Alaskans, who serve in 19 states as far away as Florida, Hawaii, and Massachusetts, would be affected by HB 3.

“Some would say, ‘Well, that’s not very many,'” San Souci said of the affected Guard members. “But I guess we would kind of argue that even if it’s five, it’s worth legislation with a zero fiscal note to help improve the policy so these folks wouldn’t be subject to getting fired if they work in private employment.”

By protecting Guard members’ private employment, Doehl said HB 3 will improve the quality of the National Guard:

This bill would allow continuity of service for those Alaskans whose life plans require them to spend time Outside: the student, the professional pilot, or other person who find themselves Outside more than in Alaska. It incentivizes new Alaskans to remain engaged with the military from a prior affiliation and their readiness kept current by continuing until we can find a position for them in the Alaska National Guard… It also supports us developing and fielding a more capable force for Alaska by capitalizing on those out-of-state [Guard] positions we just can’t replicate up here, letting Alaskans go out for a finite period and come back.

Keeping new Alaskans serving in the Guard also saves taxpayer money that would otherwise have to be spent on training replacements when Guard members move.

Rep. George Rauscher (R-Palmer) worried about the language in HB 3 making a Guard member “entitled to return to the employee’s former position, or a comparable
position, at the pay, seniority, and benefit level the employee would have had if the employee had not been absent as a result of active state service[.]”

Rauscher wondered if businesses that downsize would be forced to rehire Guard members when they can’t afford it.

“I want to support the bill and I want to vote for it, but how is that addressed?” he asked.

The language Rauscher referenced already protects Alaska Guard members. HB 3 simply adds protection for Outside Guard members.

Doehl said that there have been situations where service members have returned to businesses that have downsized or folded completely. If the member’s previous position no longer exists as a result, the business is not required to rehire the service member, Doehl said.

Tuck held HB 3 in committee Thursday.

His veteran hiring preference bill, HB 2, is scheduled for a second hearing on Tuesday. He will likely try to move HB 2 out after that hearing.

HB 3 could move out of committee as early as next Thursday.