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SENATE DOCKET, NO.                 FILED ON: 10/9/2013

SENATE  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  No. 1876

 


The Commonwealth of Massachusetts
 

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In the Year Two Thousand Thirteen

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An Act relative to veterans’ allowances, labor, outreach, and recognition.
 

              Whereas, The deferred operation of this act would tend to defeat its purpose, which is to provide forthwith benefits to certain veterans and servicemembers, therefore, it is hereby declared to be an emergency law, necessary for the immediate preservation of the public convenience.
 

              Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives in General Court assembled, and by the authority of the same, as follows:
 

              SECTION 1. The sums set forth in this section, for the purposes set forth in this act and subject to the conditions specified under this act, are hereby authorized for expenditure in fiscal year 2014, subject to the provisions of law regulating the disbursement of public funds and approval thereof.

                                                        JUDICIARY

                                                        Trial Court

              0330-0300    For administration and transportation costs associated with the veterans court project pilot program and study……………………….. $100,000.

              SECTION 1A.

                            EXECUTIVE OFFICE OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES

                                          Department of Veterans’ Services

              XXXX-XXXX    For costs associated with implementing the training and certification of veterans’ benefits and services officers………………………….. $350,000

              SECTION 2. Section 2 of chapter 90, as appearing in the 2012 Official Edition, is hereby amended by striking out the twenty-first paragraph in lines 478 through 494, inclusive, and inserting in place thereof the following:- The registrar shall furnish without charge to owners of private passenger motor vehicles who are Gold Star parents, children, siblings, grandchildren, or spouses of members of the military, upon presentation of satisfactory evidence of such status as determined by the registrar, distinctive registration plates that read "Gold Star Family'' for one private passenger motor vehicle owned and principally used by such persons or a distinctive "Gold Star Family'' emblem to be affixed to a registration plate for a motorcycle privately owned and principally used by such persons. The registrar may issue a distinctive “Gold Star Family” registration of up to 6 characters for one private passenger motor vehicle owned and principally used by such persons.

              SECTION 3. Subsection (a) of section 8E of chapter 12 of the General Laws, as appearing in the 2012 Official Edition, is hereby amended by inserting, after the words “U.S.A.;” in line 17, the following words:-  Department of Massachusetts Marine Corps League

              SECTION 4. Chapter 15A of the General Laws, as appearing in the 2012 Official Edition, is hereby amended at the end thereof by inserting a new section:-

              Section 44. (a) As used in this chapter, the following words shall, unless the context clearly requires otherwise, have the following meanings:-

              “Active duty”, full-time duty status in the active uniformed service of the United States, including members of the National Guard and Reserve on active duty orders pursuant to 10 U.S.C. sections 1209 and 1211.

              (b) This chapter shall apply to all postsecondary institutions in the commonwealth including: (i) the system of public institutions of higher education, as defined in section 5 of chapter 15A; (ii) private occupation schools, as defined in section 263 of chapter 112; and (iii) private colleges, universities or other institutions of higher learning. 

              (c)  No student at a postsecondary institution shall incur academic or financial penalties by virtue of performing military service on behalf of the United States. A student who enrolls in but is unable to complete an academic course because he or she is called to, or enlists in, active duty shall have the option to complete the course at a later date without penalty or withdraw from the course with a full refund of fees and tuition paid. If the academic course is no longer available upon the student’s return from active duty, the student shall be permitted to complete a replacement course for equivalent credit without penalty.  If the student chooses to withdraw from the course, the student’s record shall reflect that the withdrawal is due to active military service.

              SECTION 5. Subsection (m) of section 8 of chapter 15E of the General Laws, as appearing in the 2012 Official Edition, is hereby amended by inserting, after the word “military” in line 86, the following words:- “, National Guard or Reserve”

              SECTION 6. Section 67A of chapter 33 of the General Laws, as appearing in the 2012 Official Edition, is hereby amended by inserting, after the word “action”, in line 3, the following:- or who died in service while in a designated combat area in the line of duty

              SECTION 7. Section 5N of Chapter 59 of the General Laws is hereby amended by striking out the first paragraph and inserting in place thereof the following:-

              Section 5N. In any city or town which accepts this section, the board of selectmen of a town, or in a municipality having a town council form of government, the town council or the mayor, with the approval of the city council in a city, may establish a program to allow veterans, as defined in clause Forty-third of section 7 of chapter 4, or a spouse of a veteran in the case where the veteran is deceased or disabled, to volunteer to provide services to that city or town. In exchange for such volunteer services, the city or town shall reduce the real property tax obligations of that veteran on the veteran's tax bills and that reduction shall be in addition to any exemption or abatement to which that person is otherwise entitled; provided, however, that person shall not receive a rate of, or be credited with, more than the current minimum wage of the commonwealth per hour for the services provided pursuant to that reduction; and provided further, that the reduction of the real property tax bill shall not exceed $1,000 in a given tax year. It shall be the responsibility of the city or town to maintain a record for each taxpayer including, but not limited to, the number of hours of service and the total amount by which the real property tax has been reduced and to provide a copy of that record to the assessor in order that the actual tax bill reflect the reduced rate. A copy of that record shall also be provided to the taxpayer prior to the issuance of the actual tax bill. The cities and towns shall have the power to create local rules and procedures for implementing this section in a way that is consistent with the intent of this section. Nothing in this section shall be construed to permit the reduction of workforce or otherwise replace existing staff.

              SECTION 8. Section 19 of chapter 68 of the General Laws, as appearing in the 2012 Official Edition, is hereby amended by inserting at the end thereof the following new section:-

              Section 19A. Any person or charitable organization established for an advocacy, benevolent, educational, humane, patriotic, philanthropic, scientific or social welfare purpose on behalf of veterans or the military, which intends to solicit contributions from persons within the commonwealth or have contributions solicited on its behalf by other charitable organizations, shall, prior to any such solicitation, apply to be a qualified veterans’ charitable organization on a form issued by the division that shall include, but not be limited to: (1) the name of the organization and the purpose for which it is organized; (2) the address of the organization and the address of any offices in this commonwealth or, if the organization does not maintain an office, the name and address of the person having custody of its financial records; (3) the charitable purpose or purposes for which the contributions to be solicited shall be used. The secretary of the department of veterans’ services shall publish on the department’s internet web site a list of qualified veterans’ charitable organizations who have complied with this section. The secretary shall place any qualified veterans charitable organization on such a list for a period of three years. Any person or organization applying for qualified veterans’ charitable organization status shall be exempt from any registration or renewal fee. 

              SECTION 8A. Section 28 of chapter 68 of the General Laws, as appearing in the 2012 Official Edition, is hereby amended by inserting at the end thereof the following subsection:-

              (f) No person or organization shall claim to be a representative of a veterans’ charitable organization with the intent to solicit contributions that benefit or profit any person or organization other than the qualified veterans’ charitable organization. Any person or organization who knowingly violates this section, or who willfully or knowingly gives false or incorrect information to the division in filing statements or reports required by subsection (b), whether such report or statement is verified or not, may be fined not more than $1,000 or by imprisonment for not more than one year, or both.

              SECTION 9. Section 2 of chapter 90 of the General Laws, as appearing in the 2012 Official Edition, is hereby amended by inserting after the words “ORDER OF THE PURPLE HEART RECIPIENT” in line 407, the following words:- and the words “COMBAT WOUNDED”

              SECTION 10. Section 2E of chapter 90 of the General Laws, as appearing in the 2012 Official Edition, is hereby amended by inserting after subsection (c) the following subsection:-

              (d)  The registrar shall furnish, upon application, to the owners of private passenger motor vehicles distinctive registration plates which shall display on their face the words “Support our Veterans”, to honor men and women who have served in the United States Armed Forces. There shall be a fee of not less than $50 for such plates in addition to the established registration fee for private passenger motor vehicles, which shall be payable at the time of registration of the vehicle and at each renewal thereof.  The portion of the total fee remaining after the deduction of costs directly attributable to the issuance of such plates shall be deposited in a registry retained revenue account. Of the remaining portion of such fee there shall be an application process designed and administered by the secretary of the department of veterans’ services to distribute such funds once during each fiscal year for the purpose of administering grants to programs or organizations that fund additional services or conduct research related to, but not inclusive of, the following: (i) veterans’ mental health and substance abuse; (ii) veterans’ housing and homelessness; (iii) veterans’ health care; (iv) veterans’ disability benefits, including but not limited to benefits provided by Section 11 of this act; (vii) long-term care of veterans; (vii) veteran employment and employment training; (ix) veterans’ education; (x) Gold Star family support; (xi) the Massachusetts War Memorial Commission. In order to expend funds from this account, the secretary of the department of veterans’ services shall appoint a three-member funding authorization committee. The committee shall authorize expenditure of funds from this special fund through an application process developed and administered by the committee. The secretary shall be a member and act as the chairperson of the committee. One member of the committee shall be a member of the Veterans’ Advisory Council who shall be appointed by the governor. One member of the committee shall be a veteran representative of the public with no financial interest in funding programs and services, who shall be appointed by the governor. No member of the legislature shall serve on the committee. Any entity awarded funds under this section in any fiscal year shall not be available for funding for next two subsequent fiscal years.

              SECTION 11. Section 1B of chapter 112 of the General Laws, as appearing in the 2012 Official Edition, is hereby amended by inserting at the end thereof the following subsection:-

              (f) The director and each of the boards of registration and examination under the supervision of the director shall waive the initial license application fee of a license or certification pursuant to subsections (a) through (e), inclusive. 

              SECTION 12. Chapter 115 of the General Laws, as appearing in the 2012 Official Edition, is hereby amended by inserting the following after section 3A:—

              Section 3B. (a) The secretary of the department of veterans’ services shall establish standards and promulgate regulations for the mandatory training and certification of veterans’ benefits and services officers. Veterans’ benefits and services officers shall be trained and certified within six (6) months of appointment pursuant to section 3 of chapter 115. Veterans’ benefits and services officers appointed before the effective date of this act shall be trained and certified at the first training administered by the secretary of the department of veterans’ services. Training shall be offered annually and shall be administered by the secretary of the department of veterans’ services and approved by the Massachusetts Veterans’ Service Officers Association and Massachusetts Municipal Association.

              The secretary shall formulate a certification test in conjunction with the Massachusetts Veterans’ Service Officers Association, which shall ensure the candidate possesses the core knowledge to effectively serve veterans. The secretary shall make the test available at the mandatory annual training and shall provide a reasonable schedule of make-up training and testing. The certification test shall assess areas of knowledge including but not limited to the following: the chapter 115 program; federal and local benefits, including employment, education, health care, retirement and other veterans’ benefits; alternative resources, including those partially or wholly subsidized by the federal government, such as Medicaid, supplemental security income and social security disability benefits, and federal pension and compensation entitlements. At the request of any appointing authority, the secretary shall offer training and testing to any person who works for or in conjunction with a certified veterans service officer or agent. Upon petition to the secretary by the appointing authority, a person appointed as a veterans’ benefits and services officer may be exempted by the secretary from the requirements of this section.

              (b) A person who receives an appointment as a veterans’ benefits and services officer or who is currently employed as a veterans’ benefits and services officer pursuant to section 3 of chapter 115 shall be certified. To be certified as a veterans’ benefits and services officer, the candidate shall meet the following qualifications: (i) be appointed locally pursuant to section 3 of chapter 115; (ii) attend a mandatory training within six (6) months of appointment, or if employed as a veterans’ benefits and services officer on the effective date of this act, attend a mandatory training at the first training administered by the secretary of the department of veterans’ services; (iii) attend a mandatory training once every calendar year; (iv) take and pass the test offered at each administered training once every three (3) years. The commonwealth of Massachusetts shall consider candidates who complete the requirements in this section a certified veterans’ benefits and services officer.

              As used in this section, the term “veterans’ benefits and services officer” shall include: (1) full-time and part-time veterans’ agents under chapter 115 of the General Laws, chapter 471 of the acts of 1972, chapter 68 of the acts of 1984 and title 108 of the Code of Massachusetts Regulations; (ii) full-time directors of veterans’ services districts under said chapter 115 of the General Laws, said chapter 471 of the acts of 1972, said chapter 68 of the acts of 1984 and title 108 of the Code of Massachusetts Regulations; (iii) county veterans’ agents under chapter 128 of the acts of 1982; and (iv) the veterans’ benefits and services commissioner in and for the city of Boston under said chapter 115 of the General Laws.

              (c) During the period of employment, a person holding a veterans’ benefits and services officer certificate pursuant to this section shall be under the direct supervision of the appointing authority pursuant to section 3 of chapter 115. The appointing authority shall regularly evaluate the performance of assigned duties by the veterans’ benefits and services officer.

              (d) Failure of a veterans’ benefits and services officer to comply with this section shall result in removal of the veterans’ benefits and services officer by the appointing authority. Failure of an appointing authority to remove the veterans’ benefits and services officer and comply with this section or any other provisions of chapter 115 of the General Laws, shall result in reduction of the percentage of seventy-five per cent reimbursement allowance, paid by the commonwealth pursuant to section 6 of chapter 115, to fifty per cent. The reduction shall remain in effect for a time period designated by the secretary or until the appointing authority is in full compliance.

              (e) The secretary shall adopt all necessary rules, regulations, and procedures in conjunction with the commission established by section 19 of chapter 108 of the acts of 2012 to implement this act no later than 180 days following the passage of this act. To defray the costs of administering this section, funds shall be appropriated to the department of veterans’ services, and shall be expended under the direction of the secretary.

              SECTION 13. Chapter 272 of the General Laws, as appearing in the 2012 Official Edition, is hereby amended by inserting after section 42A the following new section:-

              Section 42B. Whoever willfully pickets, loiters or otherwise creates a disturbance within 1,000 feet of a funeral home, church, temple, military funeral procession, burial or other building where military funeral services are being held, shall be punished by a fine of not more than two thousand dollars or by imprisonment for not more than two years in a house of correction, or both.

              SECTION 14. The secretary of the executive office of health and human services shall establish and implement an ongoing veterans’ home modification program through the Massachusetts rehabilitation commission. The commissioner of the Massachusetts rehabilitation commission, in collaboration with the secretary of the department of veterans’ services, shall promulgate rules and regulations necessary to carry out a veterans’ home modifications program for any veteran who was called to active duty after September 11, 2001 who has suffered a service connected disability and who requires home modifications services to function more independently in their homes and community.  The purpose of the veterans’ home modification program is to provide funding on behalf of said veterans for home modifications services made necessary by the functional limitations associated with the veteran’s service connected disability.  The commissioner and secretary of veterans’ services shall, to the best of their knowledge, identify veterans eligible for this program and provide a cost estimate for the purpose of appropriations for this program for fiscal year 2015 and beyond.  Said cost estimate shall be reported to the House and Senate Committee on Ways and Means and Joint Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs not later than March 1, 2014.      

              SECTION  15.  (a) There is hereby established the Massachusetts Servicemember Post-Deployment Council to make recommendations regarding the implementation of a program in Massachusetts to support service members transitioning to civilian life after deployment.

              (b) The council shall consist of  25 members: 2 members of the senate appointed by the president of the senate, 1 of whom shall be a member of the joint committee on veterans and federal affairs and 1 of whom shall be a member of the joint committee on mental health and substance abuse;  1 member of the senate appointed by the minority leader of the senate, who shall be a member of the joint committee on children, families and persons with disabilities, the joint committee on labor and workforce development, or the joint committee on housing;  2 members of the house of representatives appointed by the speaker of the house of representatives, 1 of whom shall be a member of the joint committee on veterans and federal affairs and 1 of whom shall be a member of the joint committee on mental health and substance abuse;  1 member of the house of representatives appointed by the minority leader of the house of representatives, who shall be a member of the joint committee on children, families and persons with disabilities, the joint committee on labor and workforce development, or the joint committee on housing;  1 member shall be the secretary of health and human services, or a designee from the executive staff to include representation from the Department of Public Health, the Department of Mental Health, the Department of Children and Families, and the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission;  1 member shall be the secretary of veterans’ services, or a designee;  1 member shall be the adjutant general of the national guard, or a designee; 1 member shall be the commissioner of the Massachusetts rehabilitation commission, or a designee;  1 member shall be the undersecretary of the department of housing and community development, or a designee;  1 member shall be the secretary of the executive office of labor and workforce development, or a designee; 1 member shall be the secretary of the executive office of education, or a designee;  13 members shall be appointed by the governor, 2 of whom shall be veterans of Operation Enduring Freedom or Operation Iraqi Freedom, and 1 each from a list of nominees submitted by each of the following organizations: Massachusetts Coalition for Suicide Prevention, Massachusetts Psychological Association, Massachusetts Psychiatric Association, Massachusetts Association of Mental Health, Massachusetts Association for Behavioral Healthcare, Massachusetts Veterans’ Service Officers Association,  Massachusetts Women Veterans Network, MGH/The Red Sox Foundation’s Homebase Program, the Massachusetts Military Heroes Fund, the federal Veterans Administration (VA), the Massachusetts Hospital Association, and the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers.    

              (c) The term of office for each appointed member shall be 2 years, or until a successor is appointed in the case of a vacancy.  The council shall, at its first organizational meeting, elect a member to serve as chairperson for a 2-year term.  The council shall also elect a vice-chairperson for a 2-year term and a clerk for a 2-year term.  No member shall receive any compensation for serving on the council.

              (d) The council shall perform and make recommendations pertaining to how best operationalize and quantify the following duties, including but not limited to: (1) examine and evaluate the effectiveness of veterans’ suicide prevention policies in the commonwealth; (2) examine and evaluate the effectiveness of suicide prevention training for veterans’ personnel in the commonwealth; (3) develop recommendations on ways in which veterans may be screened upon return from deployment; (4) develop recommendations for methods by which the commonwealth may identify, evaluate, and refer servicemembers returning to civilian life post-deployment for assistance with education, employment, healthcare, housing, and other services; (5) provide recommendations for improving communication between mental health services and potentially at-risk veterans; (6) provide recommendations for improving observation and treatment plans for returning veterans; (7) develop recommendations for the provision of mental health counseling services to combat the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder for post-deployment veterans (8) examine ways in which the commonwealth can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression among returning veterans; (9) identify the needs of women veterans relative to issues including, but not limited to, compensation, rehabilitation, outreach, health care, education, and other issues facing women veterans in the community. The council may hold public hearings to assist in the collection and evaluation of data and testimony.

              (e) The council shall submit its findings and recommendations, including a detailed re-entry program plan relative to servicemembers who return to civilian life after deployment, together with recommendations for legislation to carry those recommendations into effect by filing the same with the clerks of the house of representatives and senate, the house and senate committees on ways and means, the joint committee on veterans and federal affairs, and the joint committee on mental health and substance abuse not later than September 15, 2015.

              SECTION 15A. (a) The Department of Public Health shall issue guidance to acute hospitals and ambulance service providers in order to establish the systematic identification of veterans and military service members following clinical care to effect appropriate referrals consistent with the privacy protections offered by federal and state laws and regulations to the Massachusetts Department of Veterans’ Services and to enable and promote access to all available resources, supports and benefits.

              (b) The Department of Veterans’ Services shall submit aggregate data reports on all referrals quarterly to the Department of Public Health.

              SECTION 16. (a) There is hereby established a special commission to study and make recommendations to create a state office of veterans’ employment and business assistance with a goal of expanding business and employment opportunities for veterans.

              (b) The commission shall consist of 16 members: 3 members of the house of representatives, 2 of whom shall be appointed by the speaker of the house of representatives and 1 of whom shall be appointed by the minority leader of the house of representatives; 3 members of the senate, 2 of whom shall be appointed by the president of the senate and 1 of whom shall be appointed by the minority leader of the senate; the secretary of labor and workforce development, or a designee; the secretary of the department of veterans’ services, or a designee; the secretary of housing and economic development, or a designee; and 6 members appointed by the governor, which shall consist of 1 member from each of the following organizations: Veterans Business Council, Northeast Veteran Resource Center, Inc., Massachusetts Small Business Development Center, Massachusetts Veteran Business Development,  Center for Women and Enterprise, and Veterans, Inc.  The speaker of the house of representatives and the president of the senate shall appoint 2 members of the commission as co-chairpersons.

              (c) The commission shall: (1) examine and report on barriers to employment facing returning veterans; (2) examine barriers to starting a veteran-owned business or nonprofits; (3) identify opportunities to promote the development of business enterprises and non-profit organizations owned and operated by veterans; (4) examine relationships that can be enhanced between state agencies and private sector employers to promote private sector awareness of barriers to veteran employment and potential benefits of hiring veterans; (5) study the feasibility of state-level veteran career counseling and training options, to include coordination with one-stop career centers and all outreach programs and initiatives relative to veterans’ employment services in the commonwealth; (5)  identify opportunities to maximize revenues aimed at accomplishing the goals in this section, including but not limited to the availability of federal grants and matching funds. 

              Said examination shall include, but not be limited to: a report on the number of veterans residing in each Massachusetts municipality; a report on the number of veterans actively seeking employment services in each community; coordinating with local, state, and federal entities to estimate the number of veterans in each community currently unemployed or under-employed; and determining the geographic location of each local veteran employment representative assigned to career centers or other employment outreach locations throughout Massachusetts. This examination shall include an assessment of staffing levels, funding levels, and outreach efforts performed by local veteran employment representatives as well as a projection of underserved geographic locations in need of greater veteran outreach efforts.

              (d) The commission may hold hearings and invite testimony from experts and the public. The commission shall review and identify best practices learned from similar efforts in other states.

              (e) The commission shall report to the general court the results of its investigation and study, and recommendations together with drafts of legislation necessary to carry its recommendations into effect by filing the same with the clerks of the senate and the house of representatives on or before January 15, 2015.

              SECTION 17. (a) There shall be a special commission to study and make recommendations pursuant to chapter 115 of the General Laws. The commission shall study and evaluate current laws, regulations, and practices related to providing services and support to veterans and make recommendations to improve the quality, effectiveness, and efficiency of partnerships between federal, state and local programs.

              (b) The committee shall consist of 7 members: 1 member of the senate, who shall be the chair of the joint committee on veterans and federal affairs, or a designee, who shall serve as co-chair of the commission; 1 member of the house of representatives, who shall be the chair of the joint committee on veterans and federal affairs, or a designee, who shall serve as co-chair of the commission; the secretary of the department of veterans’ services, or a designee; the secretary of the executive office of administration and finance, or a designee; the president of the Massachusetts Veterans’ Service Officers Association, or a designee; the executive director of the Massachusetts Municipal Association, or a designee; the veterans’ benefits and services commissioner in and for the city of Boston, or a designee.

              (c) The commission shall: (1) study and evaluate the current system for identifying veterans in need of services; (2) study the current state-level process of providing, administering, and financing services and access to services; (3) make recommendations to enhance the coordination of the actions of federal, state, and local government agencies to support measurably better outcomes and efficiency for community-based veterans services. The commission shall evaluate the fiscal impact on local government of the current system of municipal financing of veterans’ benefits subject to reimbursement through state appropriations and of the rules governing state and local administration of chapter 115 of the General Laws.  The Commission shall consider alternative efficient methods of financing and administration that would improve services to veterans.

              (d) The commission shall convene its first official meeting on or before February 1, 2014. The commission shall file a report of the findings of its study with recommendations for legislation with house and senate committees on ways and means and the joint committee on veterans and federal affairs not later than December 1, 2015.

              SECTION 18. (a) There is hereby established the Massachusetts Veterans Long Term Care and Housing Master Plan Commission. The commission shall study, evaluate and make recommendations regarding the future needs surrounding housing and residential care demand for veterans, spouses, and dependents in the commonwealth.

              (b) The commission shall consist of 15 members: 1 member of the senate who shall be the chair of the joint committee on veterans and federal affairs, or a designee, who shall serve as co-chair of the commission; 1 member of the house of representatives who shall be the chair of the joint committee on veterans and federal affairs, or a designee, who shall serve as co-chair of the commission; the secretary of the department of veterans’ services, or a designee; 4 members appointed by the secretary of health and human services, 1 who shall be an expert in healthcare delivery systems, 1 who shall be an expert in healthcare facilities management, 1 who shall be a member of the board of trustees of the Soldiers’ Home in Massachusetts, and 1 who shall be a member of the board of trustees of the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke; 1 member appointed by the secretary of administration and finance from the division of capital asset management and maintenance; the president of the Massachusetts Veterans’ Service Officers Association, or a designee; the executive director of the interagency council on housing and homelessness or a designee; 1 member, acting as a private citizen not employed by an agency, city, town, or group providing services to veterans, that has extensive knowledge of the Veterans Administration appointed by the secretary of the department of veterans’ services; 1 member, acting as a private citizen not employed by an agency, city, town, or group providing services to veterans with extensive knowledge of real estate, construction and development appointed by the secretary of the executive office of administration and finance; 2 members from the governor’s advisory committee on women veterans;  2 members, acting as private citizens not employed by a city, town, or group providing services to veterans, appointed by the secretary of the department of veterans’ services, that are combat veterans of conflicts since 2001.

              (c) The commission shall study and evaluate the emerging changes in veterans care and delivery of services relative to long term health care and housing with the goal of ensuring all services provided by the state are strategically balanced by region, and are in-line and complimentary to those services provided by the federal government and other service providers. The commission shall study and evaluate the current capital needs for both the Soldiers’ Home in Massachusetts and the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke and examine best practices in other states for the purpose of developing a long term master plan and recommendations relative to long term capital spending.

              (d) The commission shall convene the first official meeting on or before January 10, 2014.  The commission shall file a preliminary report of the study with recommendations for long term capital not later than April 30, 2014 with the secretary of the executive office of administration and finance, the clerks of the house of representatives and senate who shall forward the same to the house and senate committees on ways and means, the house and senate committees on bonding, capital assets and state expenditures, and the joint committee on veterans and federal affairs.

              SECTION 19. Notwithstanding any provision of federal, state or local law to the contrary, a private, nonpublic employer of the Commonwealth may provide a preference to a veteran for employment.  The spouse of an honorably discharged veteran who is determined to be 100 per cent disabled by the Veterans’ Administration as a result of enemy action or an accident certified by said Veterans’ Administration to be service-connected may also be preferred for employment. This preference is not considered in violation of any federal, state, or local equal employment opportunity law.

              SECTION 20. (a) Notwithstanding the provisions of any general or special law to the contrary, there shall be a two-year veterans court project pilot program and study administered in Norfolk County and managed by a veterans court program director for the purpose of developing a model to implement veterans courts across the commonwealth.   The veterans court program director shall be selected by the Chief Justice of the Trial Court and the secretary of the department of veterans’ services after a publically advertised request for applicants and shall be employed by the Executive Office of the Trial Court.

              (b) There shall be established a veteran court advisory board consisting of 8 members: the attorney general of the commonwealth, or a designee; the secretary of veterans services, or a designee; the chief justice of the trial court, or a designee; the executive director of the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association, or a designee; the commissioner of the department of mental health, or a designee; the commissioner of the department of public health, or a designee; a member of the community who has served or a family member of someone who has served, designated by the secretary of veterans services and a member of the committee for public counsel services, designated by the chief justice of the trial court. 

              (c) The veterans court program director shall meet quarterly with the veterans court advisory board and together shall make recommendations to the Chief Justice of the Trial Court and to the Court Administrator on the implementation of sections 20 and 21 of chapter 108 of the acts of 2012. The veterans court program director shall have duties that include, but are not limited to, the following: (i) developing a detailed summary of data collected through the pilot program; (ii) recommending best practices for implementing a veterans court; (iii) analyzing costs associated with implementing veterans courts across the commonwealth; (iv) studying the efficacy of the models used in the pilot program; (v) coordinating with Mission Direct Vet to develop a summary of the organization’s findings and efficacy of Mission Direct Vet pilot programs.   

              (d) The Chief Justice of the Trial Court with the advice and consent of the veterans court advisory board shall submit a detailed report of findings, recommendations, and plan to expand veterans courts throughout the commonwealth to the joint committee on veterans and federal affairs, joint committee on the judiciary, joint committee on mental health and substance abuse, house committee on ways and means, and senate committee on ways and means not later than two years after the date of hire of the veterans court program director.

              (e) To defray costs of administering this section, funds shall be appropriated to the executive office of the trial court and shall be expended under the direction of the chief justice.

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