DAYTON, OH – In advance of forum at Wright Patterson Air Force Base today, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) announced a new effort to ensure our nation’s servicemembers’ and their families’ rights are protected.
“Servicemembers who risk their lives protecting our nation shouldn’t have to worry about predatory banking practices,” Brown said. “They shouldn’t have to worry about whether they can vote absentee while overseas or whether their civilian job will be there when they return.
“That’s why I introduced the Servicemembers’ Protection Act, which would ensure that military families are protected and that active duty troops can focus on their service,” Brown continued. “As citizens of a grateful nation, we have a responsibility to do something about the servicemembers who are being shut out, shunned, and have had doors slammed in their faces.”
Too often increased deployments for our troops have been met with growing abuses of servicemembers’ rights. Servicemembers in Ohio and around the nation have experienced issues including: financial institutions initiating foreclosure proceedings while a servicemember is deployed; delays in ballot transmission; and high unemployment. Since 2006, the nation’s largest mortgage servicers have improperly overcharged and foreclosed upon deployed servicemembers in violation of the Servicemembers’ Civil Relief Act (SCRA), a law designed to protect military members from harmful lending practices. In conjunction with the $25 billion foreclosure fraud settlement in February, these banks agreed to fully review the extent of their SCRA violations.
Brown outlined his new bill, the Servicemembers’ Protection Act, which would bar unlawful foreclosure, voter disenfranchisement, and employment discrimination of our nation’s troops and their families. The bill would strengthen the Department of Justice’s ability to enforce laws such as the SCRA; the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) – which was designed to secure servicemembers’ employment rights during periods of military service and prohibits employer discrimination based upon military service; and the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens’ Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) – which ensures that the votes of servicemembers station overseas are counted.
Specifically, the Servicemembers Protection Act would:
Prevent Unlawful Foreclosures
Problem: Banks wrongfully foreclosing on servicemembers. The last thing servicemembers needs to worry about, when they are deployed is whether or not their family can remain in their home. Yet, since 2006, the nation’s largest mortgage servicers have improperly overcharged and foreclosed upon deployed servicemembers in violation of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA), a law designed to protect military members from harmful lending practices.
Solution: The Servicemembers Protection Act would strengthen the protections that prevent judgments against a servicemember when he/she cannot appear in court due to military service. It would also increase civil penalties for banks that violate the SCRA and wrongfully foreclose on servicemembers’ homes. It would also expand the Department of Justice’s authority to investigate wrongful foreclosures on servicemembers’ homes.
Uphold Voting Rights
Problem: Servicemembers receiving late and inconsistent ballots. Servicemembers work every day to protect our constitutional freedoms and their right to vote should not be limited simply because they are stationed overseas. The Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) was enacted to ensure that servicemembers and their families have the opportunity to vote. It requires that local boards of elections send absentee ballots to overseas servicemembers no later than 45 days before a federal election. Over the past few years, numerous violations of this law have come to light, which means that servicemembers are not receiving their ballots in a timely fashion.
Solution: Brown’s bill would strengthen enforcement of UOCAVA. The Servicemembers Protection Act would require that states submit pre-election reports on the status and timeliness of transmitted ballots to overseas military personnel and would create a uniform, nationwide standard for transmission of military and overseas ballots.
Promote Employment Protections
Problem: Servicemembers being discriminated against because of their military service. Our servicemembers need to know while they are fighting for our democracy abroad, they will return to their job when they arrive home. However, this is not always the case. As the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq wind down, a significant number of employers have violated Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), which requires employers to reemploy a servicemember returning from military service in a position he or she would have attained had they not been deployed.
Solution: The Servicemembers’ Protection Act would strengthen enforcement of USERRA by enabling the Department of Justice to investigate and file USERRA violations. It would also allow the United States to serve as a named plaintiff, effectively having the U.S. Government – and not the individual soldier – bring suits for USERRA violations. Sen. Brown’s bill also broadens DOJ’s authority to investigate allegations of USERRA violations.