Democrats in the Iowa House have approved a bill which would extend unemployment benefits to the spouse of a soldier who’s reassigned or deployed and the spouse is forced to quit their job and relocate. 

Representative Ray Zirkelbach, a Democrat from Monticello, was part of an Iowa National Guard unit that served nearly two years in Iraq.  He said it’s not a unique concept.

“Thirty-seven other states think that supporting the spouses of military personnel, male or female, is something that’s valuable and that we need to provide those benefits so they’re not faced with a hardship,” Zirkelbach said. “Imagine in today’s economy somebody quitting their job, possibly selling their home in order to relocate and…on top of that, having the stress of the deployment.” 

However, all but one Republican in the House opposed the bill, arguing the state’s unemployment fund may be overrun if this bill becomes law and Iowa businesses will wind up paying more, in taxes, to pay these benefits.  Representative Jodi Tymeson, a Republican from Winterset, is a retired Iowa National Guard Brigadier General.  Tymeson said she never expected unemployment benefits when she quit her classroom teaching job in 1992 when her soldier/husband went to the Air War College in Alabama and she followed him there.

“We are clueless on the fiscal impact — clueless. But, oh well, it’s other people’s money.  What do we care?” Tymeson said.  “Other people’s money — really easy to spend.”

Representative McKinley Bailey, a Democrat from Webster City who led combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, called Tymeson’s comments “insulting” to military families.

“The idea that a spouse would quit their job and just sit on their butt during an economy like this where it is incredibly hard to find reemployment is just silly,” Bailey said. 

Representative Kraig Paulsen of Hiawatha, the Republican leader in the House, retired after a career in the Air Force.

“The reason we’re debating this bill is pretty simple,” Paulsen said. “It’s because there’s 115,000 Iowans out of work today and this bill is going to make it just a little bit harder to be an employer in the state of Iowa once again.”

After an hour of often contentious debate, the House passed the bill shortly before seven o’clock tonight.  All but one Democrat — Representative Geri Huser (D-Ankeny) — voted for it.  All but one Republican — Representative Richard Anderson (R-Clarinda) — voted against it. The bill must win Senate approval and be signed by the governor before the proposal becomes law.