Politics & Government

Got military orders? You shouldn’t have to pay fees to cancel TV and internet, lawmakers say

A Veterans Resource Fair is being held April 20 at the Tacoma Dome.
A Veterans Resource Fair is being held April 20 at the Tacoma Dome. Staff file, 2016

Kurt Erickson expects to spend about $350 to cancel his TV and internet service next month.

The staff sergeant in the Washington National Guard has military orders taking him and his family to California.

But those orders don’t let him out of his internet and TV contracts — not without a hefty fee.

“I’m going to be relocating for over a year, so I’m going to need to break some of these contracts soon,” said Erickson, who lives in Lakewood.

“It’s something you have to budget for.”

Two lawmakers who represent the area around Joint Base Lewis-McChord want to change that.

A proposal from Reps. Christine Kilduff, D-University Place, and Dick Muri, R-Steilacoom, would allow military members and their families to get out of contracts for gym memberships, internet service and cable TV when they have orders to move or deploy.

It’s completely unfair that they would have to — in service to their country — terminate a contract, and then pay penalties and fees.

State Rep. Christine Kilduff, D-University Place

House Bill 1056 would allow service members to break those contracts without racking up cancellation fees, as long as they send a company written notice and a copy of their orders.

Kilduff, the prime sponsor of the bill, said it’s unfair that service members have to pay extra cancellation fees just to do their jobs.

“When military members are moving, they don’t hesitate to take on their duties and move, or go around the country and the world,” Kilduff said.

“They should not have to pay a price for doing that.”

Right now, federal law allows service members to break rental leases, cellphone contracts and automobile leases without paying cancellation fees, said Travis Alley, the veterans outreach specialist in the state Attorney General’s Office.

But the same protection isn’t provided for other types of contracts, including ones for gym memberships, internet service and cable TV, Alley said.

“Unless the cable TV company is willing to work with them or cancel their contract, there’s currently no legal protection that person has — other than to pay that cancellation fee,” said Alley, an assistant attorney general.

Minnesota, Oregon, New York and Indiana have already approved similar protections for military members, while Arizona has adopted some of them, but not all.

Kilduff is sponsoring the proposal this year at the request of Attorney General Bob Ferguson, after introducing a similar bill on her own in 2016.

Muri, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, said service members today have many more contracts to worry about than when he entered the military four decades ago, making the bill more necessary than ever.

“Satellite radio service — didn’t hear about that then,” Muri said at a hearing for HB 1056 this month.

“Internet services, subscription television services, telecommunications services … this is kind of an update for some of the contracts that people get,” said Muri, who is co-sponsoring the measure.

Four other states — Minnesota, Oregon, New York and Indiana — have approved similar protections for military members, while Arizona has adopted some of them, according to the Attorney General’s Office.

It’s something you have to budget for.

Staff Sgt. Kurt Erickson, who serves in the Washington National Guard

Erickson, who works in a military intelligence battalion with the National Guard, sees another benefit to the bill: It would make it much easier for military members to cancel contracts, he said, helping them save valuable time as they are trying to move.

What’s more, it could help prevent service members from accruing cancellation fees or other charges they don’t even know about, he said. Erickson said he’s seen those types of charges hurt service members’ credit scores, or cause “painful” battles with collection agencies.

“This bill would prevent that from ever happening,” said Erickson, a local Democratic precinct committee officer who ran last year for the Pierce County Council.

Another measure sponsored by Kilduff and Muri — also requested by Ferguson — would create a legal assistance office for veterans and military members. The proposed program within the Attorney General’s Office would help connect military members, veterans and their families to pro bono legal services and self-help services.

No one testified against either measure this month during hearings before the House Judiciary Committee.

On Thursday, members of the committee voted unanimously to move both bills forward.

The proposals now await a vote by the full House.

Melissa Santos: 360-357-0209, @melissasantos1