Three bills regarding the state National Guard are awaiting Gov. Roy Cooper’s signature after receiving overwhelming bi-partisan support in both chambers during the Long Session.
Included are bills to clarify employment protections for National Guard soldiers, to ensure that servicemen and servicewomen will not fall behind in education due to guard service and also to allow guardsmen to purchase from Corrections Enterprises.
The first, HB120, simply includes current and retired National Guard members in the pool of state-affiliated personnel that can buy from Corrections Enterprises, the state-run production of goods made by prisoners for sale to nonprofits and governmental bodies.
Current and retired state employees and National Guard members can buy up to $2,500 in goods a year and those goods cannot be resold.
Corrections Enterprises products include everything from metal and woodworking products to eyeglasses and retail items.
The bill will become active when signed by the governor.
House Bill 486 was passed to ensure that those serving in the state National Guard will be insulated from falling behind in their education because of their service to the state.
The bill allows for students to complete schoolwork remotely, take incompletes until the coursework can be completed or to drop classes without penalty when called into state service.
The bill also extends tuition benefits to professional certification programs.
Probably the most publicly visible measure in the bill is a section that will ensure that the state’s veterans’ cemeteries will continue to receive funding, a question mark in the budget most recently passed.
The public face of the issue was the East Carolina State Veterans Cemetery in Goldsboro, which is specifically mentioned in the bill.
The section regarding the cemeteries becomes active when the bill becomes law.
The final bill, HB487, is meant to better define and clarify the state law requiring that National Guard members are protected from losing their jobs due to military service, reflecting the national Uniformed Service Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA).
USERRA protects service members from losing their jobs due to everything from weekend drill duty, to annual training and even deployments.
Under federal law employees have a certain amount of time to return to work following a stretch of military service, depending on the amount of time in service, that an employer must place the employee back in their job at the same or increased pay, depending on how they would have progressed in the time they were absent.
Under the state law an employer must reemploy a National Guard member that has been released from state duty within five days of notice from the employee.
For duties less than 30 days the employee must let their employer know they are back before the first regularly scheduled time they would work , at least eight hours after being released from state duty.
For longer duties the timeline is extended to 14 days for an employee to notify their employer.
For those that are injured the timeframe is two years, but can be extended by the Commissioner of Labor, if the correct steps are taken.
That extension is also open for appeal by the employer.
The bill applies to duties undertaken on or after the date the legislation becomes law.