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July 28, 2004

Blagojevich signs laws strengthening employment rights and benefits for Illinois Guard Members and Reservists

SPRINGFIELD - Governor Rod R. Blagojevich today signed four pieces of legislation granting Illinois Guard and Reserve members greater employment security and benefits equal to active duty military members. 
“Our country is relying more heavily on citizen-soldiers than it has in the past, so when they are called to duty, they leave behind families and civilian jobs, and all the related obligations. We need to make sure that they can come back from service and resume their lives without difficulty,” said Gov. Blagojevich.
House Bill 4660, sponsored by state Rep. Lisa Dugan (D-Kankakee) and state Sen. George Shadid (D-Pekin), strengthens employment protection for Illinois National Guard and Reserve members who are called to active duty.  The new law imposes fines ranging from $5,000 to $10,000 against employers who terminate soldiers’ jobs while they are serving on active duty.  If the Service Member’s Employment Tenure Act is violated, HB 4660 also requires employers to compensate the person called to active duty for any loss of wages or benefits, along with reasonable attorney’s fees and costs.
“National Guard Members and reservists who are called to active duty to fight terrorism across the world should not have to fight for their jobs when they return home,” said Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn. 
Quinn was instrumental in winning approval for legislation that helps ensure military service members are informed of their rights and benefits. Senate Bill 2526, sponsored by state Sen. Patrick Welch (D-Peru) and state Rep. Kevin McCarthy (D-Orland Park), requires the Illinois
Department of Military Affairs to publish a document outlining the rights and responsibilities of military service members under State and Federal law.  The information will be available to service members, their families and organizations that assist service members both electronically and in paper copy. 
The third piece of military legislation signed today, House Bill 4372, gives Guard members the same rights when called to service by the President as they receive when the Governor calls them to service. Currently, military members are entitled to certain rights in connection with a stay, postponement, or suspension of court proceedings and a monetary credit or refund of college tuition and fees when they are called to service by the Governor.  The new law now extends those same entitlements to service members called to active duty by the President.  Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia (D-Peru) and Sen. Lawrence Walsh (D-Joliet) sponsored the legislation.
National Guard and Reservists members will also now have access to MIA/POW scholarships.  House Bill 4491 amends the school code definition of eligible veteran or service person to include an “Illinois National Guard member” in the provision concerning MIA/POW scholarships.  The change makes Guard members eligible for the scholarships if they are declared prisoners of war or missing in action, or permanently disabled from service-connected causes while on active duty or in training.  Chief sponsors of House Bill 4491 are Rep. Ron Stephens (R-Troy) and Sen. Denny Jacobs (D-Moline).
“This allows for equal benefits and recognition for all Illinois service members regardless of their duty status,” said Gen. Thomas. “The Guard and Reserve have played a key role in our nation’s defense with more than 5,000 Illinois Citizen Soldiers answering the call to active duty in the last few years.”
All bills are effective immediately.


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