Bill Would Urge Full Pay for Reservists; Proposal Gives Tax Credits to Employers

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Byline: Thomas B. Pfankuch, Times-Union staff writer

TALLAHASSEE -- When soldiers go to war, they leave behind their home, their family and their sense of security.

But members of the National Guard and reserves, part-time soldiers increasingly called upon to fight America's battles, also leave behind their jobs and regular income.

To ease that financial burden, two Northeast Florida lawmakers introduced a bill yesterday that would encourage private employers and require government employers to continue paying full salary to reservists called to active duty. The plan could cost as much as $48 million every six months.

With the nation on the brink of an invasion of Iraq, Florida has sent more than 5,300 part-time soldiers to active duty, second in number only to Texas. Many are from the North Florida area.

"There's a lot for these people to worry about, and we ought to make finances one less thing for these soldiers and their families to worry about," said Rep. Doug Wiles, D-St. Augustine.

Wiles, the Democratic leader in the House of Representatives, is an Army veteran and former National Guard member. He held a news conference with Sen. Tony Hill, D-Jacksonville, yesterday to introduce their proposal.

Although the two Democrats said they are aligning bipartisan support for the bill, they acknowledged such a measure will face a difficult path to passage during a legislative session sure to be marked by budget cuts and spending squabbles.

Wiles and Hill estimate their proposal could cost $48 million every six months if the maximum number of qualified people and employers participated. …