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  • Acts
  • 2014
  • Chapter 62 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 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, 2015. 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 program and study established in section 33
$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.  Section 61 of chapter 7 of the General Laws, as appearing in the 2012 Official Edition, is hereby amended by inserting after subsection (i 1/2 ) the following subsection:-
(i 3/4)  SDO shall, every 3 years and in consultation with the department of veterans’ services, establish goals for participation of service-disabled, veteran-owned business enterprises in all areas of state procurement contracting, including contracts for public construction, design services and commodities and service. In calculating such goals, the secretary shall base the determination on an understanding of the pool of service-disabled, veteran-owned business enterprises available for participation.
      SECTION 4.  Section 35CC of chapter 10 of the General Laws, as so appearing, is hereby amended by striking out, in line 6, the word “including” and inserting in place thereof the following word:- and.
      SECTION 5.  Section 8E of chapter 12 of the General Laws, as so appearing, is hereby amended by inserting after the word “U.S.A.”, in line 17, the following words:- ; Department of Massachusetts, Marine Corps League, Inc.
      SECTION 6.  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 duty.
      (b)  This section shall apply to all postsecondary institutions including: (i) the system of public institutions of higher education, established in section 5; (ii) private occupational schools, as defined in section 263 of chapter 112; and (iii) private colleges, universities and other institutions of higher learning.
      SECTION 7.  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 8.  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 words:- or who died in service while in a designated combat area in the line of duty.
      SECTION 9.  Section 8A of chapter 58 of the General Laws is hereby repealed.
      SECTION 10.  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 1 of each year unless another meaning is clearly apparent from the context; provided, however, that any person who receives an exemption pursuant to 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, Forty-first C½, Forty-second, Forty-third, Fifty-sixth or Fifty-seventh shall not receive an exemption on the same property pursuant to any other provision of this section, except clause Eighteenth or Forty-fifth.
      SECTION 11.  Clause Twenty-second E of said section 5 of said chapter 59, as so appearing, is hereby amended by striking out the last paragraph.
      SECTION 12.  Said section 5 of said chapter 59, as amended by chapter 46 of the acts of 2013, is hereby further amended by inserting after clause Twenty-second E the following clause:-
      Twenty-second F, Real estate of soldiers and sailors who are veterans, as defined in clause Forty-third of section 7 of chapter 4, and their spouses who, according to the records of the United States Department of Veterans Affairs or of any branch of the armed forces of the United States by reason of injury received while in service and in the line of duty are paraplegics; provided, however, that the veteran or spouse shall be a legal resident of the commonwealth, the veteran’s last discharge or release from the armed forces was under other than dishonorable conditions and the veteran was domiciled in the commonwealth for at least 6 months prior to entering service or resided in the commonwealth for 5 consecutive years prior to the date of filing for exemption pursuant to this clause; provided, further, that the real estate is occupied as the veteran’s domicile; 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  the person’s domicile shall be exempted; and provided, further, that an exemption pursuant to this clause shall continue unchanged for the benefit of the surviving spouse after the death of the 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 pursuant to 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 $175, whichever basis is applicable, shall be borne by the city or town and the balance shall be borne by the commonwealth; provided; however, that 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 clause, the exemptions available pursuant to 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 pursuant to the applicable clause.
      SECTION 13.  Section 5C of said chapter 59, as appearing in the 2012 Official Edition, is hereby amended by striking out, in lines 13 and 14, the words “of section eight A of chapter fifty-eight and”.
      SECTION 14.  Said chapter 59 is hereby amended by inserting after section 5C the following section:-
      Section 5C ½.  In a city or town that 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 pursuant to 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 that 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 pursuant to said section 5; provided, however, that in no instance shall the taxable valuation of the 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 said 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 that it otherwise would have been reimbursed by the commonwealth pursuant to the respective clause.
      SECTION 15.  Section 5N of said chapter 59, 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 16.  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 that year, within 3 months after the bill or notice is so sent.
      SECTION 17.  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 18.  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 that 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 for designation as a veterans’ charitable organization on a form issued by the division 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 pursuant to section 19.
      SECTION 19.  Section 28 of said chapter 68, as appearing in the 2012 Official Edition, is hereby amended by adding the following sentence:- (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 20.  Section 1 of chapter 90 of the General Laws, 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 21.  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 22.  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. 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 Family” registration plate for an individual who meets the requirements of this section.
      SECTION 23.  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 commonwealth’s portion of the initial application fee and the initial fee for a license application or certification granted pursuant to this section.   
      SECTION 24.  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 pursuant to section 3. Training shall be offered annually and shall be administered by the secretary 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’ services 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 veterans’ services; (iii) attend a mandatory training once every calendar year; and (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 of this section a certified veterans’ benefits and services officer.
      As used in this section, “veterans’ benefits and services officer” shall include: (A) 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 108 CMR; (B) full-time directors of veterans’ services districts under this chapter, said chapter 471, said chapter 68 and said 108 CMR; (C) county veterans’ agents under chapter 128 of the acts of 1982; and (D) 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 the 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 assist the veteran; or (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 be limited to, communications, reports, records, working papers or memoranda.
      SECTION 25.  Chapter 149 of the General Laws is hereby amended by inserting after section 44 ½ the following section:-
      Section 44 ¾.  Notwithstanding chapter 151B, a private, nonpublic employer may provide a preference in promoting or hiring to: (i) a veteran; (ii) the spouse of an honorably discharged veteran who the United States Department of Veterans Affairs determines to be 100 per cent disabled as a result of enemy action or a service-connected accident; or (iii) the surviving spouse of a veteran.
      SECTION 26.  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 500 feet of a funeral home, church, temple, 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 27.  Section 4 of chapter 73 of the acts of 1986 is hereby repealed.
      SECTION 28.  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 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 the commissioner’s and the secretary’s knowledge, identify veterans eligible for this program and provide a cost estimate for appropriations for this program for fiscal year 2016 and beyond.  The cost estimate shall be reported to the house and senate committees on ways and means and the joint committee on veterans and federal affairs on or before November 1, 2014.
      SECTION 29.  (a) There is hereby established the Massachusetts Servicemember Post-Deployment Council to make recommendations regarding the implementation of a program in the commonwealth 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 member appointed by the minority leader of the senate 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 member appointed by the minority leader of the house of representatives 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 14 members shall be appointed by the governor from a list of nominees submitted by each of the following organizations: the Massachusetts Coalition for Suicide Prevention, the Massachusetts Psychological Association Inc., Massachusetts Psychiatric Society, Inc., Massachusetts Association for Mental Health, Inc., Association for Behavioral Healthcare, Inc., Massachusetts Veterans’ Service Officers Association,  Massachusetts Women Veterans’ Network, The Red Sox Foundation, Inc. and Massachusetts General Hospital Home Base Program, the Massachusetts Military Heroes Fund, Inc., the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, The Massachusetts Hospital Association, Inc., the Military Friends Foundation and The Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers, Inc.; provided, however, that 2 such members shall be veterans of Operation New Dawn, Operation Enduring Freedom or Operation Iraqi Freedom.
      (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 to operationalize and quantify its 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; (4) the fluctuating income of service members upon discharge; and (5) the number of veterans who are discharged and, upon residency in the commonwealth, are without health care coverage; provided, however, that 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 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 on or before September 15, 2015.
      SECTION 30.  (a) The department of public health shall issue to the department of veterans’ services guidance for acute hospitals and ambulance service providers in order to establish the systematic identification of veterans and military service members following clinical care to assist in appropriate referrals and to enable and promote access to all available resources, supports and benefits; provided, however, that such guidance shall be consistent with the privacy protections offered by federal and state laws.
      (b)  The department of veterans’ services shall submit quarterly aggregate data reports on all referrals to the department of public health.
      SECTION 31.  (a) There is hereby established a special commission to study and make recommendations to create an office of veterans’ employment and business assistance with the goal of expanding business and employment opportunities for veterans.
      (b)  The commission shall consist of 14 members: 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 a 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 to be appointed by the minority leader of the senate, or the members’ designee; the secretary of labor and workforce development, or a designee; the secretary of veterans’ services, or a designee; 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 a 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 to be appointed by the minority leader of the house of representatives, or the members’ 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, North East Veteran Resource Center, Massachusetts Small Business Development Center Network, Center for Women & Enterprise, Inc. and Veterans Inc.  The speaker of the house of representatives and the president of the senate shall select 2 members from the commission membership to serve 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; (vi) examine outreach programs and initiatives relative to employment services for veterans 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 particular challenges 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.
The examination shall include an assessment of staffing levels, funding levels and outreach efforts performed by local veteran employment representatives and 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 subsection (c) and make recommendations together with drafts of legislation necessary to carry out its recommendations by filing the report with the clerks of the senate and the house of representatives on or before June 15, 2015.
      SECTION 32.  (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 the housing and residential care demands of veterans, veterans’ spouses and veterans’ dependents. 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.
      (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 trustees of the Soldiers’ Home in Massachusetts and 1 whom shall be a member of the trustees of the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke; 1 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 United States Department of Veterans Affairs; 1 member appointed by the secretary of the executive office for 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;  and 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 its first official meeting not later than June 10, 2014.  The commission shall file a preliminary report of the study with recommendations for long-term capital spending on or before April 30, 2015 with the secretary of administration and finance and the clerks of the senate and the house of representatives, 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 program and study administered 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 veterans court advisory board consisting of 8 members: the attorney general, 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 the director and board 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 existing veterans courts in Norfolk county, the city of Boston or any other jurisdictions where veterans court services may operate; (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 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, the joint committee on the judiciary, the joint committee on mental health and substance abuse and the 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.  (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 24 not later than 180 days after the effective date of this act.
      SECTION 35.  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; (ii) 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 on or before November 1, 2014.
      SECTION 36.  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 the designation in compliance with the standards of the department.
      SECTION 37.  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 than 90 days after the effective date of this act.
      SECTION 38.  Section 23 shall take effect 90 days after the effective date of this act.

Approved, April 3, 2014.