Bill would simplify relocation for spouses
February 27, 2009
WASHINGTON — Cindy Maurer is living in Maryland right now, but she doesn’t have any idea what state really counts as her home.
"We’ve moved 10 times in 18 years," the Navy wife said. "I’m a physical therapist, and have a professional license in Mississippi, California, Maryland, Hawaii and Virginia. I have a driver’s license in my purse that’s from Hawaii, but I’m a voter in Maryland now.
"I’m spinning just thinking about everything I have to do every time we have to move."
Under federal law, servicemembers who move from state to state on military assignments can keep their home state residency if they so choose, allowing them to avoid switching driver’s licenses, voting privileges and tax status.
But military spouses who join them can’t. Maurer said with each move she’s had to research new state residency laws to figure out how to register the couple’s cars, where to file their taxes and dozens of other tasks.
"And that’s on top of the stress of moving," she said.
On Wednesday, Maurer and other military spouses gathered in Washington to back legislation sponsored by Rep. John Carter, R-Texas, that would change those rules, allowing spouses to keep the same state of residence as their servicemembers for their entire military career.
The measure wouldn’t solve all the headaches — Maurer would still have to get professional licenses in every state where she works, for example — but the spouses said it would eliminate dozens of other switches they have to make but their servicemembers do not.
Carter called the inequity "an egregious error" that lawmakers need to correct; the statute governing military spouses’ residency hasn’t been updated since 1940.
Joanna Williamson, a Navy wife who brought the issue to Carter last year, said the current rules aren’t simply a minor inconvenience for families as they move from place to place.
Often spouses will register cars or homes only in their servicemember’s name to avoid fees and filing in multiple states, she said. If the couple divorces, the spouse could be left with nothing.
"The spouse earned that property, and they need to have that protection," she said. "So it becomes an issue of fairness and equality in the relationship. I have a job. I own a vehicle. I should be able to put that in my name."
Late last year Carter introduced similar legislation that passed the House but never came up for a vote in the Senate. He said he believes bringing up the issue early in the year will give him the time needed to collect enough supporters for passage, and has already received support on the Senate side for the proposal.
Tameka Gabriel, a Navy wife who drove from North Carolina to D.C. for the event, said she’s hopeful the changes can be passed this year.
"Everything is just a long process," she said. "This would just take away so much of the grief that comes with making a move."