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Senate helps Ohio soldiers, their families

As part of a flurry of bills taken up by the General Assembly late last month, the House and Senate approved bipartisan legislation on March 24 that works to honor the service of Ohio veterans, expand benefits for soldiers and their families and make it easier for the brave men and women who are serving our state and nation across the world to exercise their right to vote.

House Bill 48, which I co-sponsored, provides up to two weeks of unpaid leave for the spouse or parent of a soldier who is called to active duty or injured while serving in a combat zone.

The provision is designed to help relieve the stress and burden for military families dealing with this emotional, life-altering event and give them time to spend with their loved ones.

Under the bill, workers are required to give their employer at least 14 days notice if they are taking leave because their spouse or child is being called to active duty and two days notice if their loved one is injured, wounded, or hospitalized. There is no advanced notice requirement if these wounds are life-threatening.

During deliberations on HB 48 in the Senate State & Local Government & Veterans’ Affairs Committee, the bill was amended to ensure Ohio is in compliance with the federal Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act, which was signed by President Obama in October 2009 and seeks to help members of our nation’s armed forces register to vote and have their absentee ballots cast and counted.

The proposal allows military voters serving overseas to apply and return voter registrations electronically to the Secretary of State’s Office and absentee ballots for these voters will be available 45 days prior to Election Day.

In addition, all ballot questions or issues will have to be certified at least 90 days before the election.

Further, my colleagues and I on the State & Local Government Committee also amended HB 48 to include language that will help move along the implementation of Issue 1, a constitutional amendment that was passed overwhelmingly by Ohio voters last November to authorize cash bonuses for Ohio veterans of the Persian Gulf, Iraq and Afghanistan wars, as well as soldiers who served in other regions of the world during these conflicts.

Specifically, Ohioans who served in the Persian Gulf, Iraq and Afghanistan will receive a bonus of $100 per month of service, up to $1,000, while members of the armed forces who were stationed elsewhere during that time will receive $50 per month of service, not to exceed $500.

In addition, the plan provides a $5,000 death benefit to the families of soldiers killed in the line of duty.

The rule-making process for the vets bonus program is still ongoing, but the Ohio Department of Veterans Services hopes by this fall to open a call center to field questions from veterans and their families, unveil a website with information about the program and coordinate with the National Guard and local veterans services agencies to provide information to veterans about how to apply for bonuses.

HB 48 was approved with unanimous support in the House and Senate and has been sent to Governor Strickland for his signature.

For more information about the bill, please visit the Ohio General Assembly website at www.legislature.state.oh.us.

Generations of Ohioans have served our state and country proudly in the armed forces and Ohio soldiers continue to put their lives on the line everyday in defense of our freedoms.

We should do everything possible to take care of these brave men and women and their families and provide the resources necessary to help them succeed. HB 48 is another important step in this effort.

John A. Carey is a member of the Ohio Senate and represents the 17th District. He can be reached at Ohio Senate, Statehouse, Columbus, Ohio 43215 or by phone at (614) 466-8156.