WASHINGTON – Governors could order federal facilities to lower their flags to honor fallen military troops under legislation passed by the House Tuesday.
Rep. Bart Stupak, a Democrat whose northern Michigan district has lost close to 20 people in fighting in Iraq and , said he sponsored the bill after unsuccessfully trying to persuade President Bush to issue an executive order on the issue.
The bill passed 408-4 and now goes to the Senate, where Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., and Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., have introduced parallel legislation.
The measure would amend federal law with regard to the flying of the national flag at half-staff to allow a governor to require that federal facilities in the state lower their flags when a member of the armed forces from that state dies while on active duty. The mayor of the District of Columbia would have the same authority with respect to military personnel from the District.
The bill is named for Army Specialist Joseph P. Micks, a 22-year-old from Rapid River in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan who was killed in Iraq last year.
Stupak said there were several instances in his state of federal facilities ignoring the governor's request to lower flags, citing another case in his district where a Veterans Affairs hospital did not fly its flag at half-staff.
"This inconsistent, patchwork display of respect is particularly hurtful to rural communities where the funeral processions of fallen troops often travel through multiple communities, some with lowered flags, others without," Stupak said.
He said he wrote the president a year ago urging him to issue an executive order requiring that federal facilities lower their flags upon the request of the governor.
"I don't know their reasons" for not responding, he said, but noted that the sight of a flag flying at half-staff is "a reminder of the war and the cost we pay."
More than 3,700 members of the U.S. military have died as a result of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Stupak said he is also backing a bill that would require the military to fly the remains of those killed while on active duty to the closest civilian or military airport. He said people in rural districts such as his own sometimes have to drive 300 or 400 miles to a major airport to follow the hearse home.