Gov. Wes Moore (D) declared 2024 “the year for military families in the state of Maryland” on Wednesday, as he rolled out his first legislative priorities for the New Year.
Moore’s administration will sponsor four bills in the 2024 General Assembly and support five others that aim to recognize the sacrifice of military families in the state and provide support.
Moore, himself a veteran U.S. Army captain, will sponsor the Families Serve Act of 2024 and the Time to Serve Act of 2024.
The Families Serve Act allows for preferential hiring of military spouses by both private-sector employers and state government.
For private-sector employers, the bill would allow employers to provide preference in hiring and promotion for spouses of active-duty military service members; state agencies would be required to add points to a military spouse candidate’s score in a selection test for state jobs.
The Time to Serve Act would expand military leave and disaster service leave for state employees who serve in the National Guard or military reserves from 15 days to 30 days. The expansion would benefit military families by giving service members paid time off to be with family, rather than at military drills, the administration said.
“Our military families are sacrificing just as much as our people in uniform,” Moore said. “And they’re sacrificing so their loved ones can serve. …They are doing it both for the love of family and for the love of country.”
The Moore-Miller administration is also advancing two departmental bills. The first would waive vehicle registration fees for Gold Star license plates and add personalization to the plates, including the rank and name of a deceased service member. The other would add the state secretary of Labor, superintendent of schools and a military spouse to the Maryland Military Installation Council, a panel that advises the U.S. Department of Defense.
The governor will also support additional legislation sponsored by members of the General Assembly, including a bill from Sen. Dawn Gile (D-Anne Arundel) and Del. Andrew Pruski (D-Anne Arundel) that would rename the Maryland Department of Veterans Affairs to the Maryland Department of Veterans and Military Families and dedicate staff to serving military families in Maryland.
Gile is also sponsoring, along with Del. Adrian Boafo (D-Prince George’s), a bill that would designate military status, including for military spouses, as a protected class for hiring purposes. This bill would complement Moore’s preferential hiring effort and make it illegal for employers to decide not to hire someone because of their military affiliation.
The governor will also support a bill from Gile and Del. Stephanie Smith (D-Baltimore City) that would allow military service members and their spouses to more easily obtain cosmetology licensure after moving across state lines.
The bills are necessary, the Moore administration and lawmakers said, because military spouses currently experience an above-average unemployment rate of 21%. And 26% of enlisted families suffer from low or very low food security.
“As a proud military spouse, I have witnessed the resilience of fellow military spouses as they navigate persistent obstacles in their professional journeys,” Gile said. “…This isn’t merely the right thing to do; it’s a crucial investment in our state’s military community and an imperative for the recruitment, readiness, and retention of military servicemembers.”
The legislative announcements capped a day of activities that included a visit by the governor and Lt. Gov. Aruna Miller (D) to a Starbucks in Annapolis, where they met with military families.
Editor’s note: This story was updated to correctly reflect that Del. Adrian Boafo is sponsoring the military status anti-discrimination bill.