Iowa lawmakers are considering legislation that would allow parents who’re in the military to transfer their visitation rights to other family members during deployment. The move comes as more than 3,500 Iowa National Guards members are preparing to leave for Afghanistan this fall.
Senator Steve Warnstadt, a Democrat from Sioux City, is a member of the Guard, although he’s not part of the unit preparing to deploy. Warnstadt says you’d like to think that this might happen without a law, but the bill puts a system in place when there’s a contentious relationship between a soldier and the parent who has primary custody of the soldier’s child.
“They’re still parents and they worry about what’s happening with their children and it’s important for them to be able to have someone that they trust be able to communicate with the child while they’re deployed,” Warnstadt says. Under the bill, a service member could transfer their visitation rights to a family member who has an established relationship with the child. That would ease the information exchange, according to Warnstadt.
“It’s important for the service member to be able to communicate to the child that they are concerned about them, that they still are interested in what’s going on and that the child know that the parent is concerned about them and worrying about them, even though they’re half a world away.”
The Iowa Senate has already approved the bill and it awaits debate in the House. The bill is one of four, military-related measures that Governor Culver is urging legislators to pass. One bill, though, has proven controversial. It would extend unemployment benefits to the spouse of a soldier who’s reassigned or deployed and the spouse if forced to quit their job and relocate.
“The strength and determination of these families, especially spouses, show in the face of separation, long hours of duty and the stress of relocating demands not just our respect but the realization that all of are obligated to do all we can to help,” Culver says. The bill passed the House with the support of Culver’s fellow Democrats. However, all but one Republican voted against it.
The Republican critics argued the state’s Unemployment Trust Fund will be overrun and businesses will wind up paying higher taxes. Culver says the new benefits for military spouses would be paid with interest in the Unemployment Trust Fund and the taxes businesses pay into that fund will be unaffected.
“Similar legislation has been introduced or enacted in 35 other states, so it’s time to Iowa to act,” Culver says. “Iowa’s dedicated military families need this bill and, quite simply, it’s the right thing to do.” Another of the military-related bills Culver says he’d sign into law would exempt Veterans Administration benefits from income taxes. Another would increase veterans’ representation on commissions.