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Bill changes eligibility for Military Sacrifice license plate

TIFFANY L. PARKS
Special to the Legal News

Published: September 19, 2014

A McDermott lawmaker has adjusted a bill that would establish a Military Sacrifice license plate.

The license plate would be available to immediate family members of an individual who died while serving honorably outside of a combat zone in any branch of the U.S. Armed Forces.

“Currently these fallen service members have no such chance at commemoration,” said Rep. Terry Johnson.

“This bill provides the families of those who have served and died while in the National Guard, the Reserves, and the Coast Guard, as well as active duty service men and women, any of whom may die while outside of a combat zone, with the opportunity to honor the sacrifice of their loved ones as well.”

The proposed legislation, House Bill 45, had been rolled into House Bill 110 but was stripped from that measure before it was signed into law due to wording concerns.

“The Department of Veterans Services Advisory Council ... feared that there could be some who technically qualified for this license plate but who could possibly have been doing something inappropriate or less than honorable, and this was a very valid concern,” said Johnson, a Republican.

“They suggested that we add the criteria that the deceased veterans must have not only been serving in the line of duty but also not ‘acting in willful misconduct.’ The Gold Star Family Committee, on the other hand, had some concerns with the ‘serving in the line of duty’ language because it could exclude people killed at any time other than directly at their post.”

Johnson said all interested parties agreed on the revamped bill that states a veteran must have died while serving honorably and “not acting of willful misconduct.”

The proposed plate would be inscribed with a distinctive emblem and the words “Military Sacrifice.”

Mount Orab resident Steven Loehrke urged lawmakers to move the bill to the governor’s desk.

“Oct. 1, 2008 was the day my life changed forever. I had just returned with my wife from the hospital and we were eating lunch. The dogs started barking and I looked out to see a vehicle with government plates pulling into the driveway,” he said.

“I commented to my wife about this and told her there were two soldiers getting out. I went outside and as I was walking toward them, I noticed the Chaplain’s cross on one of them. I asked them if this was bad news. They said, ‘yes sir.’”

After that, Loehrke said one of the officers informed him that his daughter, Sgt. Christina E. Loehrke Smith, had been killed the previous evening.

Smith’s husband and another man, who both served in the military, were later convicted of her murder.

“We were presented with a Gold Star family citation and various other documents that the Army presents surviving families,” Loehrke said.

“Since we were presented with the Gold Star citation and given what we thought at the time were Gold Star pins, I went to the BMV to inquire about obtaining Gold Star license plates for our vehicles. This is when I found out that our family is considered next of kin and that we weren’t eligible for Gold Star plates.”

After speaking with other Gold Star and next of kin families, Loehrke said he realized there was a need to recognize families who were ineligible for Gold Star license plates.

HB 45 specifies that a person who is not a member of the immediate family of a person who has died outside a combat zone while serving honorably and not of willful misconduct in any branch of the Armed Forces, National Guard or Coast Guard must not willfully or falsely represent that the person is an immediate family member in order to obtain a Military Sacrifice license plate.

For purposes of the bill, immediate family members include spouses, parents, stepparents, individuals who acted as parents, siblings, children and grandparents.

“We take a day each year in May to honor the service of our deceased loved ones who have served and to place a flag on their headstone. This solemn act of remembrance helps to keep the memory of individual valor and service alive and serves to inspire future generations,” Johnson said.

“But there are many families who long to commemorate such courage in a more visible fashion. They desire to daily express their patriotism and the remembrance of their loved ones. This bill fills a void for those families with fallen service members who served and paid the ultimate sacrifice but lack the ability to memorialize them.”

HB 45 unanimously passed the House and is before the Senate Transportation committee.

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