A state legislative committee recently heard testimony in response to a bill
designed to provide judicial oversight in determining how military retirement pay should be distributed for divorced military retirees.
The Pennsylvania House Democratic Policy Committee entertained testimony from military advocates and retirees during a public hearing at Slippery Rock University on Monday, according to the office of committee Chairman Mike Sturla, a Democrat from Lancaster County.
“Examining legislation like this in a public forum to hear from those who would see the greatest impact is an important part of vetting a bill,” Sturla said in a statement.
The proposal, House Bill 1192, would provide judicial discretion when determining how a military retiree’s retirement pay, other than his or her pension, should be distributed in the case of a divorce.
The measure is sponsored by State Rep. Jaret Gibbons, a Democrat representing parts of Beaver, Butler and Lawrence Counties.
“With the difference between military retirement pay and a traditional pension, this legislation is vital to keeping the division of property fair under the law,” Gibbons said in a statement. “Giving the court system more leeway to study this on a case-by-base basis would ensure that fairness can prevail in these situations.”
Monday’s hearing at Slippery Rock University, which is located in western Pennsylvania, included testimony from Larry White, the national director of the USFSPA (Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act) Liberation Support Group; Bob Balick, a retired military serviceman who serves on the board of the American Retirees Association; Brenda Lee Smith, a retired member of the military; Frank Kurland, a retired Navy member; Dale Hill, a Pennsylvania representative from the ULSG; and concerned citizens Karen Throckmorton and Kathleen Sterling, according to the state House Democratic Caucus.
In a co-sponsorship memorandum circulated to fellow House members back in mid-February, Gibbons noted that under the Uniformed Services Former Spouses Protection Act of 1982, the federal government gives states the right to determine whether military retirement pay is considered marital property or not.
And while standard pensions are viewed as divisible in all 50 states, military retirement income is not considered a pension.
Gibbons also pointed out that if a service member serves honorably for 20 years, he or she is placed in the retired reserves.
Unlike a traditional pension, retired military members must fulfill continuing obligations to remain eligible to receive their military retirement pay.
Gibbons wrote that his legislation would specify that the courts could treat disposable retired pay or retainer pay either as property solely of the member or as joint property of the member and his or her spouse.
If a judge determines that the pay is marital property, the lawmaker wrote, the court would be required to calculate the amount consistent with the rank, pay grade and length of service of the member at the time of separation.
Under current Pennsylvania law, military retirement pay is not specifically excluded as marital property, Gibbons wrote.
“Therefore, regardless of the length of the marriage or military service, military retirement pay is often, if not always, subject to division,” the memorandum states. “Given the clear differences between military retirement pay and traditional pensions, the treatment of this pay as property should be considered more carefully by the judicial branch on a case-by-case basis to determine if the pay should be divided between the military member and the former spouse.”
Legislative records show that the bill was last referred to the House Judiciary Committee in mid-April.