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Military duty to be reflected in pay

Certain state employees who serve their country will soon get rewarded financially.

State and public education employees called to active military duty for the war on terrorism will get an extra check to make up the difference between state and military pay.

According to the Associated Press, Attorney General Bill Pryor has issued an opinion saying the state must make up the difference if a National Guard member or Army Reservist makes less on military duty than while working for the state.

The opinion is based on a bill the Alabama Legislature passed in the final days of the legislative session.

"I think it was imperative that the state do this," said Sen. Jimmy Holley, one of the sponsors of the bill. "We've got one of the largest reserve forces in the 50 states. As a result, a lot of people are leaving family and homes and jobs to serve."

The bill that originally passed the House would have only given the Guard members and Reservists a break on college tuition if called to active duty, but Holley said he moved to amend the bill in the Senate after hearing from constituents who told him they were hurting financially because a family member had been called to active duty.

"One woman told her husband's pay had gone from $45,000 to $29,000 and she and the children had to move in with her parents and they were at risk of losing their home," said Holley.

In his written opinion, Pryor said he disagreed with the argument that the new law would give some service members a "windfall."

"In the judgment of this office, it is the state and nation that receive a windfall in the form of selfless service and sacrifice that members of our armed forces render during times of crisis," said Pryor.

State Personnel Director Tommy Flowers said he asked Pryor for the opinion to ensure the state agencies had a consistent interpretation

Mac McArthur, who is the executive director of the Alabama State Employees Association, called Pryor's opinion a "big victory for state employees who serve in the military."

The new law for the war on terrorism is a dramatic swing from the Persian Gulf War in 1991. Then the state gave activated troops extra time to file their tax returns, but there was no salary difference from the state.

Rep. Terry Spicer, who sponsored the legislation in the House, said he wants lawmakers next year to consider setting up a trust fund which would be used to help private employers also give service members the difference between military and regular pay.