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

SENATE  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  No. 1885

Text of the Senate Bill relative to veterans’ allowances, labor, outreach, and recognition,-- being the text of (Senate, No. 1878, printed as amended).

 

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.

 

              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. To provide for benefits for certain veterans and servicemembers in the commonwealth in fiscal year 2014, the sums set forth in section 2 are hereby appropriated from the General Fund for the several purposes and subject to the conditions specified in this act and subject to laws regulating the disbursement of public funds; provided, however, that notwithstanding any general or special law to the contrary, appropriations made herein shall not revert and shall be available for expenditure until June 30, 2014. The sums appropriated in this act shall be in addition to any amounts previously appropriated and made available for these purposes.

              SECTION 2.

              JUDICIARY

              Trial Court

              0330-0344    For administration and transportation costs associated with a veterans court project pilot program and study established in section 33 of this act ……………………….. $100,000.

              EXECUTIVE OFFICE OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES

              Department of Veterans’ Services

              1410-0024    For costs associated with implementing the training and certification of veterans’ benefits and services officers………………………….. $350,000

              SECTION 3. Clause forty-third of section 7 of chapter 4 of the General Laws, as appearing in the 2012 Official Edition, is hereby amended by inserting after the definition “Active service in the armed forces” the following  definition:-

              “Gold Star”, the status of any member of the armed forces, reserve component of the armed forces or National Guard who was deceased due to an injury, illness or disease, not due to gross negligence or misconduct of the member, which was incurred or aggravated while serving on military duty; provided, however, that for the purpose of determining Gold Star status, the term “military duty” shall mean full-time duty in the active military service of the United States, regardless of duration or purpose; provided, further, that  active military service shall include full-time training duty, annual training duty and attendance, while in the active military service, at a school designated as a service school by law or by the Secretary of the Department of Defense; provided further, that “military duty” shall also include full-time National Guard or reserve duty; provided further, that any member of the armed forces, reserve component of the armed forces or National Guard shall also be considered on military duty if that person is on inactive duty training, funeral honors duty, traveling directly to or from such active or inactive duty or training or while training before the commencement of military assignment or between successive periods of such active or inactive duty.

              SECTION 3A.  Section 61 of chapter 7 of the General Laws, as so appearing, is hereby amended by inserting after subsection (i ½) the following subsection:-

              (i¾) SDO shall, on an annual basis and in consultation with the department of veterans’ services, establish goals for participation on public projects for service-disabled, veteran-owned small businesses interested in and capable of providing construction and design services on public construction and design projects. In calculating such goals, SDO shall incorporate data from the United States Department of Defense and the Massachusetts National Guard reflecting the percentage of the commonwealth’s population that are service-disabled veterans.

              SECTION 3B. Section 35CC of chapter 10 of the General Laws,  as so appearing,  is hereby amended by striking out, in lines 6 and 7, the words “certain active duty members of the armed forces who were killed in action” and inserting in place thereof the following words:- persons with Gold Star status as defined in clause Forty-third of section 7 of chapter 4

              SECTION 4. Subsection (a) of section 8E of chapter 12 of the General Laws, as so appearing, is hereby amended by inserting, after the words “U.S.A.”, in line 17, the following words:-  ; Department of Massachusetts, Marine Corps League, Inc.

              SECTION 5. Chapter 15A of the General Laws is hereby amended by adding the following section:-

              Section 43. (a) 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 an academic course at any of the institutions in subsection (b) but is unable to complete an academic course because that student is called to, or enlists in, active duty, as defined in section 1 of chapter 15E, 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.

              (b) This section 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.

              SECTION 6. 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 7. Section 67A of chapter 33 of the General Laws, as so appearing, 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 8.  Section 8A of chapter 58 of the General Laws is hereby repealed.

              SECTION 9.  Section 5 of chapter 59 of the General Laws is hereby amended by striking out the first paragraph, as appearing in the 2012 Official Edition,  and inserting in place thereof the following paragraph:-

              The following property shall be exempt from taxation and the date of determination as to age, ownership or other qualifying factors required by any clause shall be July first of each year unless another meaning is clearly apparent from the context; provided, however, that any person who receives an exemption under clause Seventeenth, Seventeenth C, Seventeenth C½, Seventeenth D, Twenty-second, Twenty-second A, Twenty-second B, Twenty-second C, Twenty-second D, Twenty-second E, Twenty-second F, Thirty-seventh, Thirty-seventh A, Forty-first, Forty-first B, Forty-first C, Forth-first C½, Forty-second, Forty-third, Fifty-sixth or Fifty-seventh shall not receive an exemption on the same property under any other provision of this section, except clause Eighteenth or Forty-fifth.

              SECTION 10.  Clause twenty-second E of said section 5 of said chapter 59, as so appearing, is here by amended by striking out the last paragraph.

              SECTION 11.  Said section 5 of said chapter 59 is hereby amended by inserting after clause Twenty-second E, as so appearing, the following clause:-

              Twenty-second F, Real estate of soldiers and sailors, who are veterans, as defined in the forty-third clause of section 7 of chapter 4, and their spouses, who according to the records of the Veterans Administration or of any branch of the armed forces of the United Stated by reason of injury received while in such service and in the line of duty are paraplegics; provided that: the veteran or spouse is a legal resident of the commonwealth; the veteran’s last discharge or release from the armed forces was under other than dishonorable conditions; the veteran was domiciled in the commonwealth for at least 6 months prior to entering such service or resided in the commonwealth for 5 consecutive years prior to the date of filing for exemption under this clause; provided, that such real estate is occupied as the veteran’s domicile by such person; and provided further, that if the property is greater than a single-family house, then only that value of so much of the house as is occupied by the person as such person’s domicile shall be exempted.  An exemption under this clause shall continue unchanged for the benefit of the surviving spouse after the death of such disabled veteran as long as the surviving spouse of the qualified veteran shall remain an owner and occupant of a domicile subject to the exemption.

              No real estate shall be exempt if the assessors adjudge that it has been conveyed to a soldier or sailor to evade taxation.

              After the assessors have allowed an exemption under this clause no further evidence of the existence of the facts required by this clause shall be required in any subsequent year in the city or town in which the exemption has been allowed; provided, however, that the assessors may refuse to allow an exemption in any subsequent year if they become aware that the soldier or sailor did not satisfy all of the requisites of this clause at the time the exemption was first granted.

              Two thousand dollars of this exemption or up to the sum of $175, whichever basis is applicable, shall be borne by the city or town; the balance shall be borne by the commonwealth; and the state treasurer shall annually reimburse the city or town for the amount of the tax which otherwise would have been collected on account of this balance.

              Notwithstanding this section, in any city or town which accepts this paragraph, said exemptions available under clauses twenty-second, twenty-second A, twenty-second B, twenty-second C, twenty-second D, twenty-second E and twenty-second F may be granted to otherwise eligible persons who have resided in the commonwealth for 1 year prior to the date of filing for exemptions under the applicable clause.

              SECTION 12.  Section 5C of said chapter 59, as so appearing, is hereby amended by striking out, in lines 13 and 14, the words “of section eight A of chapter fifty-eight and”.

              SECTION 13. Said chapter 59 is hereby amended by inserting after section 5C the following section:-

              Section 5C½.  In a city or town which accepts this section and is certified by the commissioner to be assessing all property at full and fair cash valuation, a taxpayer who otherwise qualifies for an exemption under any clause specifically listed in the first paragraph of section 5 for which receipt of another exemption on the same property is prohibited, shall be granted an additional exemption which shall be uniform for all exemptions and the amount of which shall not exceed 100 per cent of the exemption for which the taxpayer qualifies, as may be determined by the legislative body of the city or town, subject to its charter, not later than the beginning of the fiscal year to which the tax relates.  Notwithstanding any provision of this chapter to the contrary, the exemption shall be in addition to any exemption allowable under section 5; provided, however, that in no instance shall the taxable valuation of such property, after all applicable exemptions, be reduced below 10 per cent of its full and fair cash valuation, except through the applicability of clause Eighteenth of section 5; and provided, further, that the additional exemption shall not result in any taxpayer paying less than the taxes paid in the preceding fiscal year.  Acceptance of this section by a city or town shall not increase the amount which it otherwise would have been reimbursed by the commonwealth under the respective clause.

              SECTION 14. Section 5N of said chapter 59 of the General Laws, as appearing in the 2012 Official Edition, is hereby amended by inserting after the figure “4”, in line 5, the following words:- or a spouse of a veteran in the case where the veteran is deceased or has a service-connected disability.

              SECTION 15.  Section 59 of said chapter 59, as so appearing, is hereby amended by striking out the third paragraph and inserting in place thereof the following paragraph:-

              An application for exemption under clause Seventeenth, Seventeenth C, Seventeenth C½, Seventeenth D, Eighteenth, Twenty-second, Twenty-second A, Twenty-second B, Twenty-second C, Twenty-second D, Twenty-second E, Twenty-second F, Thirty-seventh, Thirty-seventh A, Forty-first, Forty-first B, Forty-first C, Forty-first C½,  Forty-second, Forty-third, Fifty-second, Fifty-third, Fifty-sixth and Fifty-seventh of section 5 may be made on or before December 15 of the year to which the tax relates, or if the bill or notice is first sent after September 15 of such year, within 3 months after the bill or notice is so sent.

              SECTION 15A.  Section 1 of chapter 60A of the General Laws, as so appearing, is hereby amended by striking out, in lines 135 and 136, the words “continental United States” and inserting in place thereof the following word:- commonwealth.

             

              SECTION 16. Chapter 68 of the General Laws is hereby amended by inserting after section 19 the following 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 to have contributions solicited on its behalf by other charitable organizations shall, prior to such solicitation, apply to for designation as a veterans’ charitable organization on a form issued by the division of public charities that shall include, but not be limited to: (i) the name of the organization and the purpose for which it is organized; (ii) the address of the organization and the address of any offices in the commonwealth or, if the organization does not maintain an office, the name and address of the person having custody of its financial records; and (iii) the charitable purposes for which solicited contributions shall be used. The secretary of veterans’ services shall publish on the department’s website a list of the names of each veterans’ charitable organization. Designation as a veterans’ charitable organization shall be valid for 3 years. Any person or organization applying for designation as a veterans’ charitable organization shall be exempt from any registration fee or renewal fee under section 19.

              SECTION 17. Section 28 of said chapter 68, as appearing in the 2012 Official Edition, is hereby amended by adding 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 veterans’ charitable organization.

              SECTION 18. Section 1 of chapter 90, as so appearing, is hereby amended by inserting after the definition of “Intersecting way” the following definition:-

              “Killed in action”, a casualty classification determined by the United States Department of Defense when a member of the armed forces of the United States has been killed while performing military operations while serving the United States in a conflict recognized by the United States Department of Defense.

              SECTION 19. Section 2 of said chapter 90, as so appearing, is hereby amended by inserting after the word “RECIPIENT”, in line 407, the following words:- and the words “COMBAT WOUNDED”.

              SECTION 20. Said section 2 of said chapter 90, as so appearing, is hereby further amended by striking out the twenty-first paragraph and inserting in place thereof the following paragraph:-

              The registrar shall furnish without charge to the owner of a private passenger motor vehicle who is a Gold Star parent, child, sibling, grandchild or spouse of a member of the military, upon presentation of satisfactory evidence of such status as determined by the registrar, a distinctive registration plate that reads "Gold Star Family'' for 1 private passenger motor vehicle owned and principally used by that person or a distinctive "Gold Star Family'' emblem to be affixed to a registration plate for a motorcycle privately owned and principally used by that person. The registrar may issue a distinctive “Gold Star Family” registration of up to 6 characters for 1 private passenger motor vehicle owned and principally used by that person. Provided further, that a Gold Star parent, child, sibling, grandchild or spouse of a member of the military that was killed in action or otherwise died as a result of immediate injuries sustained from such action may have a “KIA” designation on the “Gold Star Family” emblem affixed to a registration plate for a private passenger motor vehicle or motorcycle privately owned and principally used by that person. The registrar shall furnish at no additional cost a “KIA” designation on any previously issued “Gold Star” registration plate for an individual who meets the requirements of this section.

              SECTION 21. Section 2E of said chapter 90, as so appearing, is hereby amended by adding the following subsection:-

              (d)  The registrar shall furnish, upon application, to the owner of a private passenger motor vehicle, a distinctive registration plate which shall display on its face the words “Support our Veterans” to honor men and women who have served in the armed forces of the United States and the armed forces of the commonwealth. There shall be a fee of not less than $50 for such plates in addition to the established registration fee for a private passenger motor vehicle, which shall be payable at the time of registration of the vehicle and at each renewal thereof.  The portion of the total remaining fee, 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, including, but not limited to, the following: (i) veterans’ mental health and substance abuse; (ii) veterans’ housing and homelessness; (iii) veterans’ health care; (iv) veterans’ disability benefits; (vii) long-term care of veterans; (vii) veteran employment and employment training; (ix) veterans’ education; and (x) Gold Star family support. In order to expend funds from this account, the secretary of the department of veterans’ services shall appoint a 3-member funding authorization committee. The committee shall authorize the 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 Governor’s Advisory Council on Veterans’ Services, 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 eligible for funding for the next 2 subsequent fiscal years.

              SECTION 22. Section 1B of chapter 112 of the General Laws, as so appearing, is hereby amended by adding 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 or certification fee granted under subsections (a) to (e), inclusive.

              SECTION 23. Chapter 115 of the General Laws is hereby amended by inserting after section 3A the following section:—

              Section 3B. (a) The secretary 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 6 months of the officer’s appointment under section 3. 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: veterans’ benefits contained in this chapter; federal and local benefits, including employment, education, health care, retirement and other veterans’ benefits; and 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 under section 3, shall be certified. To be certified as a veterans’ benefits and services officer, the candidate shall, at a minimum, meet the following qualifications: (i) be appointed locally under section 3; (ii) attend a mandatory training within 6 months of appointment, 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 3 years. The secretary of veterans’ services 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: (i) full-time and part-time veterans’ agents under this chapter, 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 this chapter, 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 this chapter.

              (c) During the period of employment, a person holding a veterans’ benefits and services officer certificate under this section shall be under the direct supervision of the appointing authority in section 3. 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 chapter shall result in reduction of the reimbursement allowance, paid by the commonwealth under section 6, from 75 per cent to 50 per cent. The reduction shall remain in effect: (i) for a time period designated by the secretary; (ii) until the appointing authority is in full compliance; (iii) until a plan is agreed upon by the appointing authority and the secretary to be in full compliance by a date agreed to by the secretary and the appointing authority; or (iv) by removal of the veterans’ benefits and services officer.

              (e) The department shall, for any reduction in the reimbursement allowance made under subsection (d), deposit said reimbursement in a trust account. Upon the appointing authority’s full compliance under subsection (d), the department shall add this amount to a subsequent reimbursement made to the city or town under section 6.

              (f) Veterans’ benefits and services officers or agents shall not disclose any information transmitted in confidence by and between a veteran and a veterans benefits and services officer or agent, except as follows: (i) when the disclosure is made for the benefit of the veteran; (ii) the disclosure is reasonably necessary to the assistance of the veteran; and (iii) under a lawful order to make such disclosure.  For the purposes of this subsection, information received by a veterans' benefits and services officer or agent which arises out of and in the course of providing assistance shall include, but not limited to, communications, reports, records, working papers or memoranda.

              SECTION 24. Chapter 149 of the General Laws is hereby amended by inserting after section 44½, the following section:-

              Section 44¾. Notwithstanding chapter 151B, a private, nonpublic employer in the commonwealth may provide a preference in promotion or hiring to: (1) a veteran; (2) the spouse of an honorably discharged veteran who the United States Veterans’ Administration determines to be 100 per cent disabled as a result of enemy action or a service-connected accident; or (3) the surviving spouse of a veteran.

              SECTION 25. Chapter 272 of the General Laws is hereby amended by inserting after section 42A the following 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 $2,000 or by imprisonment for not more than 2 years in a house of correction, or both.

              SECTION 26.  Section 4 of chapter 73 of the acts of 1986 is hereby repealed.

              SECTION 27. The secretary 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 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 the veteran’s home and community.  The purpose of the veterans’ home modification program is to provide funding on behalf of 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 commissioner’s and secretary’s 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.  The cost estimate shall be reported to the house and senate committee on ways and means and the joint committee on veterans and federal affairs not later than March 1, 2014.

              SECTION  28.  (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 27 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 of whom shall be the ranking minority member of the senate who is on the joint committee on children, families and persons with disabilities, the joint committee on labor and workforce development or the joint committee on housing, or the member’s designee;  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 of whom shall be the ranking minority member of the house of representatives who is on the joint committee on children, families and persons with disabilities, the joint committee on labor and workforce development or the joint committee on housing, or the member’s designee;  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 labor and workforce development, or a designee; 1 member shall be the secretary of education, or a designee; and 14members shall be appointed by the governor, 2 of whom shall be veterans of Operation New Dawn, Operation Enduring Freedom or Operation Iraqi Freedom, and 1 from a list of nominees submitted by each of the following organizations: Massachusetts Coalition for Suicide Prevention, Massachusetts Psychological Association, Massachusetts Psychiatric Society, Inc., Massachusetts Association of Mental Health, Association for Behavioral Healthcare, Inc., Massachusetts Veterans’ Service Officers Association,  Massachusetts Women Veterans Network, The Red Sox Foundation and Massachusetts General Hospital Home Base Program, the Massachusetts Military Heroes Fund, the federal Veterans Administration, the Massachusetts Hospital Association, the Military Friends Foundation 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 on how best to operationalize and quantify the following duties which may include, but shall not be limited to: (i) examining and evaluating the effectiveness of veterans’ suicide prevention policies; (ii) examining and evaluating the effectiveness of resilience training for veterans’ personnel; (iii) developing recommendations on ways in which veterans’ support service needs may be promptly assessed upon return from deployment; (iv) developing recommendations for methods by which the commonwealth may identify, evaluate and refer service members returning to civilian life post-deployment for assistance with education, employment, health care, housing and other services; (v) providing recommendations for improving communication between mental health support services and veterans who may benefit from such services; (vi) providing recommendations for improving observation and treatment plans for returning veterans; (vii) developing recommendations for providing mental health counseling services to combat the effects of post-traumatic stress injuries for post-deployment veterans; (viii) examining ways in which the commonwealth may reduce stress, anxiety and depression among returning veterans and family members of returning veterans; (ix) providing recommendations on improving health access assistance, including analyzing: (1) barriers prohibiting veterans from receiving coverage upon their residency in the commonwealth; (2) tools to educate active duty members who intend to reside in the commonwealth on their ability to acquire health care coverage in the commonwealth; (3) the resources available to military members to help afford coverage upon discharge; (3) the fluctuating income of service members upon discharge; and (5) the amount of veterans who are discharged and upon residency in the commonwealth are without health care coverage; provided, however, the council may form a subcommittee to implement this clause; and (x) identifying 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 out those recommendations into effect by filing the same with the house and senate clerks, 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 29. (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 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 quarterly aggregate data reports on all referrals to the department of public health.

              SECTION 30. (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 14 members: 3 members of the house of representatives, 1 of whom shall be the chair of the joint committee on veterans and federal affairs, 1 of whom shall be the chair of the joint committee on labor and workforce development and 1 of whom shall be the ranking minority member of the house of representatives who is on the joint committee on veterans and federal affairs or the joint committee on economic development and emerging technologies, or the member’s designee; 3 members of the senate, 1 of whom shall be the chair of the joint committee on veterans and federal affairs, 1 of whom shall be the chair of the joint committee on labor and workforce development and 1 of whom shall be the ranking minority member of the senate who is on the joint committee on veterans and federal affairs or the joint committee on economic development and emerging technologies, or the member’s designee; the secretary of labor and workforce development, or a designee; the secretary of veterans’ services, or a designee; the secretary of housing and economic development, or a designee; and 5 members appointed by the governor, who shall consist of 1 member from each of the following organizations: Veterans Business Council, Northeast Veteran Resource Center, Inc., Massachusetts Small Business Development Center, 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: (i) examine and report on barriers to employment facing returning veterans; (ii) examine barriers to starting a veteran-owned business or nonprofit; (iii) identify opportunities to promote the development of business enterprises and nonprofit organizations owned and operated by veterans; (iv) examine relationships that can be enhanced between state agencies and private-sector employers to promote private-sector awareness of barriers to veteran employment and the potential benefits of hiring veterans; (v) study the feasibility of state-level veteran career counseling and training options, including coordination with 1-stop career centers and all outreach programs and initiatives relative to veterans’ employment services in the commonwealth; (vi) examine outreach programs and initiatives relative to employment services for veterans in the commonwealth and conduct a demographic and geographic analyses of the veteran population who is seeking services through the division of career services; (vii) 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; (viii) develop and implement an action plan to address the needs and deficiencies of underserved geographic locations in need of greater veteran outreach efforts; and (ix) consider any particular challenges that may be faced by female veterans and disabled veterans when related to the objectives of the commission.

              The examination shall include, but not be limited to: (i) a report on the number of veterans residing in each municipality; (ii) a report on the number of veterans actively seeking employment services in each community; (iii) coordinating with local, state and federal entities to estimate the number of veterans in each community currently unemployed or underemployed; and (iv) a determination of the geographic location of each local veteran employment representative assigned to career centers or other employment outreach locations throughout the commonwealth. The examination shall include an assessment of staffing levels, funding levels and outreach efforts performed by local veteran employment representativesand 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 the action plan as developed in clause (viii) of the first paragraph of subsection (c) and make recommendations together with drafts of legislation necessary to carry out its recommendations by filing such report with the clerks of the senate and the house, not later than before January 15, 2015.

              SECTION 31. (a) There shall be a special commission to study and make recommendations under 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: 2 of whom who shall be the house and senate chairs of the joint committee on veterans and federal affairs, or their designees, who shall serve as co-chair of the commission; the secretary of the department of veterans’ services, or a designee; the secretary 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; and the veterans’ benefits and services commissioner in and for the city of Boston, or a designee.

              (c) The commission shall: (i) study and evaluate the current system for identifying veterans in need of services; (ii) study the current state-level process for providing, administering and financing services and access to services; and (iii) 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 not later than 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 32. (a) There is hereby established the Massachusetts veterans long-term care and housing master plan commission. The commission shall also study the feasibility of waiving the homestead fee established in section 38 of chapter 262 of the General Laws for disabled veterans. 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 16 members: the house of representatives and senate co-chairs of the joint committee on veterans and federal affairs, or their designees, who shall serve as co-chairs of the commission; the secretary of veterans’ services, or a designee; 4 members appointed by the secretary of health and human services, 1 of whom shall be an expert in healthcare delivery systems, 1 of whom shall be an expert in healthcare facilities management, 1 of whom shall be a member of the board of trustees of the Soldiers’ Home in Massachusetts and 1 whom shall be a member of the board of trustees of the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke; 1 of member appointed by the secretary of administration and finance, who shall be an employee of 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 appointed by the secretary of veterans’ services who is a private citizen, not employed by an agency, city, town or group providing services to veterans, and who has extensive knowledge of the federal Veterans Administration; 1 member appointed by the secretary of the executive office of administration and finance who is 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; 2 members from the governor’s advisory committee on women veterans;  2 members appointed by the secretary of veterans’ services who are private citizens, not employed by a city, town or group providing services to veterans, and who 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 with 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 not later than 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 administration and finance and the house and senate clerks, who shall forward the report 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 33. (a) Notwithstanding any general or special law to the contrary, there shall be a 2-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. The director shall be an employee 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 the chief counsel of the committee for public counsel services, or a designee.

              (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: (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; and (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 plans 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 and house and senate committees on ways and means not later than 2 years after the date of hire of the veterans court program director.

              SECTION 34. Notwithstanding any general or special law to the contrary, the highway constituting the turnpike and Boston extension, as defined in section 1 of chapter 6C, shall be designated and known as the Purple Heart Massachusetts Turnpike, for inclusion in the National Purple Heart Trail, in recognition of the members of the armed forces of the United States who are wounded by an instrument of war in the hands of the enemy. The Massachusetts Department of Transportation shall erect and maintain suitable markers bearing that designation in compliance with the standards of the department.

              SECTION 35. Notwithstanding any general or special law to the contrary, the portion of state highway route 44, that runs between United States highway route 3 in the town of Plymouth in a westerly direction for a distance of 14.4 miles to interstate highway route 495 in the town of Middleborough, shall be designated and known as the Gold Star Highway in recognition of the brave men and women who died while actively serving in our nation’s armed services.  The Massachusetts Department of Transportation shall erect and maintain suitable markers bearing that designation in compliance with the standards of the department.

              SECTION 36.  (a)  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 veterans’ services as required by section 3B of chapter 115 of the General Laws.

              (b)  The secretary of veterans’ services 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 section 23 not later than 180 days after the effective date of this act.

              SECTION 37. The department of veterans’ services, in conjunction with the department of revenue, shall study the feasibility and analyze the merits of implementing a sliding scale property tax abatement for veterans and spouses, currently implemented under clause Twenty-second of section 5 of chapter 59 of the General Laws, based upon a percentage of disability as defined by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs.  The study shall include, but not be limited to: (i) the methodology of granting such exemption in other states; (2) the utilization of a sliding scale, based upon the percentage of the veteran’s disability, in awarding the property tax exemption to veterans and spouses; (iii) the impact on disabled veterans; and (iv) any anticipated monetary cost to the commonwealth or to municipalities that the exemption may cause.  The department of veterans’ services, in conjunction with the department of revenue, shall submit its findings and legislative recommendations to the clerks of the house of representatives and senate, the house and senate committees on ways and means and the joint committee on veterans and federal affairs not later than March 15, 2014.

              SECTION 38. Notwithstanding any general or special law to the contrary, all secretariats, departments, commissions and agencies required to submit reports under this act shall file the reports by the date required via electronic means with the chairs of any committees named as recipients and with the clerks of the senate and house of representatives. The house and senate clerks shall develop procedures and requirements for secretariats, departments, commissions and agencies regarding the preparation of the reports to facilitate their collection and storage and the reports shall be made available to the public on the general court’s website. When a legislative commission is established, the clerks of the senate and house of representatives shall include on the general court's website the date the commission was established, the members of the commission and the reporting date of the commission.

              SECTION 39.  Notwithstanding any general or special law to the contrary, Bridge number D12026-1XX on state highway route 131 over the Quinebaug river in the town of Dudley shall be dedicated and known as the Private First Class Ranger Christopher P. Dona, Army, memorial bridge in memory of United States Army Private Christopher Dona,  who was killed in a tragic parachuting accident on June 13, 2013 at the Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield base.  The Massachusetts Department of Transportation shall erect and maintain suitable markers bearing that designation in compliance with the standards of the department.

              SECTION 40.  Notwithstanding any general or special law to the contrary, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation shall erect a suitable marker at the intersection of state highway route 122 and Hartford avenue in the town of Uxbridge in honor of United States Marine Corps Private Edward Sullivan, recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor, 1898.

              SECTION 41.  On the effective date of this act, 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 to have contributions solicited on its behalf by other charitable organizations shall comply with section 19A of chapter 68 of the General Laws not later 90 days after the effective date of this act.

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