County considers bill on military

Employees called to duty would get pay, benefits

January 21, 2003|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

With a possible war against Iraq looming, Baltimore County Council members are considering offering full pay and health benefits for employees called into active military duty for two years.

The proposal, introduced last month by Councilman John Olszewski Sr., would also offer county employees assurance that they will have their jobs with the government when they return home from service.

Council members are expected to vote on the measure at their meeting tonight.

After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the county continued to pay the salaries and health and life insurance premiums for employees called into military duty. But the compensation expired last month.

County Executive James T. Smith Jr. asked the council to consider amending the county's leave policy so that the county could continue offering the benefits until Dec. 31 next year.

About 150 Baltimore County employees are military reservists or National Guard members, said Elise Armacost, a county spokeswoman. Twenty-three of them are in active service now.

Michael K. Day Sr., president of the Baltimore County Professional Fire Fighters Association said it was important to offer tangible support.

"It is the correct, proper and patriotic thing to do," he said. "They should be protected while they're protecting us."

When National Guard and military reserve units were first activated after the Sept. 11 attacks, state and local governments responded by assuring those called to duty that the government would cover the cost of health insurance premiums until they returned home.

For hundreds of government employees, that meant their families could keep pediatricians and family doctors, rather than having to transfer into the military medical system.

Some private corporations also offered to pay health insurance premiums for their employees.

Northrop Grumman, a defense contractor with 16,400 employees in Maryland, Washington and Northern Virginia, paid reservists whatever portion of their salary wasn't covered by the military.

Federal law also helps protect the jobs of military personnel when they are called to duty by requiring employers to offer them up to five years of unpaid leave.

Council President Kevin B. Kamenetz said he is confident the bill will pass.

"We don't want them to be penalized for their service to our country," he said.

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