Politics & Government

Extended military family leave proposed by Washington Rep. Adam Smith

U.S. Rep. Adam Smith wants to expand a federal law covering illnesses and injuries to include up to two weeks of unpaid leave for family members of deployed service members — a benefit already available to military families in Washington state.

The Tacoma Democrat, testifying last week before the House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity, said his bill would allow time off for the spouses, children and parents of any member of the armed forces who is deployed or mobilized for active duty or returning from a combat zone with an injury.

"It's a complex problem," Smith said, "and the needs of the families crop up in ways that surprise us as policymakers."

It's an expansion of the Family and Medical Leave Act, which was amended in 2008 to allow military families to take time because of deployments. But to qualify under current law, a family member must work for the same employer for more than a year, must work more than 1,250 hours in the past year, and that company must have more than 50 employees.

Military family members sometimes fail to meet those requirements because they move frequently, Smith testified Thursday. The proposed legislation would cover those who don’t qualify.

"It would apply across the board, to any job a military family member might have," he said.

Smith introduced the legislation, officially dubbed the Military Family Leave Act of 2009, last July. It has since attracted seven cosponsors. But the Army Times, quoting congressional aides, said one concern is that employers might balk at hiring military family members or might be more likely to lay them off during tough times.

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