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Public Statements

Servicemembers and Veterans Legal Protections Act of 2004

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC


SERVICEMEMBERS AND VETERANS LEGAL PROTECTIONS ACT OF 2004 -- (House of Representatives - October 06, 2004)

Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, I move to suspend the rules and pass the bill (H.R. 4658) to amend the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act to make certain improvements and technical corrections to that Act, as amended.

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Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Speaker, I rise again in strong support of H.R. 4658, as amended, the Servicemembers and Veterans Legal Protections Act of 2004. This measure has a number of important provisions for servicemembers, veterans and their dependents.

H.R. 4658, as amended, would further strengthen the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act that was enacted just last year and signed by President Bush. There were several new issues that arose while we were considering that legislation, but their solution required further research and discussion. That discussion led to this legislation.

Most significantly, the bill would clarify that the Servicemembers Relief Act's lease termination protection under section 305 applies to military dependents who are on joint leases with servicemembers. This has always been the intent of Congress, but some landlords have recently tried to argue there is a loophole, leaving the servicemember's spouse liable if the servicemember is relieved from liability under the lease. That was pointed out most definitively in an oversight hearing we held very recently.

H.R. 4658 would make several other improvements to the SCRA, including strengthening protections relating to waivers of servicemembers rights. Additionally, it would provide motor vehicle lease termination protections for servicemembers stationed in Alaska and Hawaii.

Mr. Speaker, under title II of 4658, this title would strengthen the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, or USERRA, the law which protects the jobs and employment benefits of Guard and Reserve members who are called to active duty. I want to highlight the major provisions for my colleagues.

The bill would increase from 18 to 24 months the maximum period of employer-sponsored health coverage during active military service to reflect the longer deployments of Guard and Reserve members. It would also establish a 3-year demonstration project at the U.S. Office of the Special Counsel to improve enforcement of the act in cases involving Federal executive branch employees.

Additionally, the bill contains a requirement for employers to provide notice to employees of their rights. Title III of the bill would make a number of changes to strengthen the program which authorizes benefit payments to fiduciaries of veterans unable to manage their financial affairs. It would require greater scrutiny by VA fiduciaries to make fiduciaries subject to civil penalties for misuse of a veteran's assets.

Mr. Speaker, this measure would also require the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to establish an inventory of medical waste management activities in the VA, and to assess what methods of medical waste disposal are desirable from an environmental perspective. He would then report to Congress on plans to modernize or improve the management of medical waste and disposal programs.

Mr. Speaker, I urge support of the bill.

Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.

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Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself 1 minute.

I want to thank the gentleman from Maine (Mr. Michaud) for his leadership on this legislation as part of the Benefits committee and the gentleman from Illinois (Mr. Evans) as well. Again, this and the bill that was passed and signed by the President last year was a historic rewrite and expansion of the Servicemembers Relief Act, as we called it. It is a rewrite of the old Soldiers and Sailors Relief Act first enacted back in 1940. It provided significant upgrades and made for consistency and uniformity across the country when it came to adjudicating the protections for our servicemen who are deployed overseas. This is especially important to so many Guard and Reserve now serving so ably and so honorably in Iraq as well as in Afghanistan.

I also want to say that I deeply regret the loss of the newborn provision. As my colleagues might recall, I worked with my good friends on the other side of the aisle and on our side to put that in. We will be back hopefully and we can regain that sometime in the future. But I do thank him for bringing that up.

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Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, I yield back the balance of my time.

The SPEAKER pro tempore (Mr. Ose). The question is on the motion offered by the gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. Smith) that the House suspend the rules and pass the bill, H.R. 4658, as amended.

The question was taken; and (two-thirds having voted in favor thereof) the rules were suspended and the bill, as amended, was passed.

The title of the bill was amended so as to read: "A bill to amend the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act to make certain improvements and technical corrections to that Act, otherwise to improve legal protections provided to reserve component members called to active duty, and for other purposes."

A motion to reconsider was laid on the table.

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