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March 15, 2007

Widow, senator, Gregoire aide, say KIA is not early retirement

Posted by David Postman at 2:52 PM

Senate Ways and Means Chairwoman Margarita Prentice said the governor talked to her personally about making things right with the retirement benefits due Victoria Johnson, the widow of a Yakima Army reservist killed in Iraq. Prentice held a brief hearing this afternoon on a pension bill that Johnson wants amended to give her the full benefits that would have been due to her husband, Major Alan Johnson, if an improvised explosive device had not blown up his Humvee in January.

"My husband did not voluntarily quit his job," Victoria Johnson told the Ways and Means Committee. She testified along side Sen. Jim Clements, R-Selah, and Marty Brown, Gregoire's chief lobbyist. Brown said the governor is very supportive of the Johnson amendment. And Clements has made it his job to push the amendment through the Senate.

They all testified about the changing nature of the military. There are reservists and National Guard troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan who have jobs back home. Some are civil servants, and part of the state retirement system. If they are killed in battle before they reach retirement age, their survivors can only collect the employee contribution, not what the employer would be required to match.

Today was only a hearing and the committee did not act on Johnson's request. But it seems Prentice can now be counted among her supporters. She said the state needs to recognize that its retirement laws did not foresee so many public employees leaving to fight a war.

"It is true our world has changed dramatically and we have to change with it," Prentice said.

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