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The 190th General Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts

AN ACT RELATIVE TO HOUSING, OPERATIONS, MILITARY SERVICE, AND ENRICHMENT.

      Whereas, The deferred operation of this act would tend to defeat its purpose, which is to further provide for the housing, operations, military service and enrichment of veterans, therefore it is hereby declared to be an emergency law, necessary for the immediate preservation of the public convenience.

      Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives in General Court assembled, and by the authority of the same as follows:
      SECTION 1.  Chapter 2 of the General Laws is hereby amended by adding the following section:-
      Section 63.  The Gold Star Families Memorial Monument located in Bicentennial Park in the city of Fall River shall be the official Gold Star Families Memorial Monument of the commonwealth.
      SECTION 2.  Chapter 6 of the General Laws is hereby amended by striking out section 71, as appearing in the 2014 Official Edition, and inserting in place thereof the following section:-
      Section 71.  The board of trustees of the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke shall manage and control the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke and all property, real and personal, of the commonwealth that is occupied or used by the home. In the management and control of the home, the board of trustees shall:  (i) adopt reasonable rules and regulations governing outpatient treatment at, admission to and hospitalization in the home; and (ii) appoint a superintendent. The superintendent shall be the administrative head of the home. The superintendent shall, subject to the approval of the trustees, appoint and may remove a medical director, a treasurer and an assistant treasurer.  The treasurer and assistant treasurer shall devote their full time and attention to the duties of their office. Section 49 of chapter 31 shall apply to the appointment of the treasurer and assistant treasurer. The medical director shall have responsibility for the medical, surgical and outpatient facilities and shall make recommendations to the superintendent regarding the appointments of all physicians, nurses and other medical staff.  The superintendent shall also appoint and remove such other persons as the superintendent deems necessary for the proper and efficient operation of the facilities of the home.
      SECTION 3.  Section 35CC of chapter 10 of the General Laws, as so appearing, is hereby amended by inserting after the word “action”, in line 8, the following words:- or related to military service.
      SECTION 4.  Section 16 of chapter 15A of the General Laws, as so appearing, is hereby amended by striking out the first sentence and inserting in place thereof the following sentence:- There shall be a Public Service Scholarship Program to provide scholarships to the: (i) children and widowed spouses of Massachusetts police officers, firefighters and correction officers who were killed or died from injuries received while in the performance of their duties, including authorized training duty; (ii) children of prisoners of war or of military or service persons missing in action; and (iii) children of veterans whose service was credited to the commonwealth and who were killed in action or otherwise died as a result of such service.      
      SECTION 5.  Section 26 of chapter 31 of the General Laws, as so appearing, is hereby amended by inserting after the word “honor”, in line 25, the following words:-  , distinguished service medal or silver star medal.
      SECTION 6.  Section 59 of chapter 33 of the General Laws, as so appearing, is hereby amended by striking out, in line 5, the word “annual” and inserting in place thereof the following words:-  service in the uniformed services, annual.
      SECTION 7.  Subsection (a) of said section 59 of said chapter 33, as so appearing, is hereby further amended by adding the following sentence:-  For the purposes of this section, “uniformed services” shall have the same meaning as defined in section 13.
      SECTION 8.  Said section 59 of said chapter 33, as so appearing, is hereby further amended by striking out subsection (d) and inserting in place thereof the following 2 subsections:- 
      (d)  An employee of the commonwealth in a reserve component of the armed forces of the United States who is ordered to service for more than 30 consecutive days shall be paid the regular base salary as a public employee for each pay period of such military leave of absence, reduced by any amount received either from the United States or the commonwealth as base pay for military service performed during the same pay period.  No such employee shall lose any seniority or accrued vacation leave, sick leave, personal leave, compensation time or earned overtime. 
      (e)  An employee of a county, city or town which, by vote of its county commissioners, city council or inhabitants at a town meeting, has accepted this section or similar provisions of earlier laws, shall be entitled to the benefits and protections of this section or the benefits of the accepted earlier law.
      SECTION 9.  Section 5 of chapter 59 of the General Laws, as so appearing, is hereby amended by striking out clause Twenty-second D and inserting in place thereof the following clause:-
Twenty-second D, Real estate to the full amount of the taxable valuation of real property of the surviving spouses of soldiers and sailors, members of the National Guard and veterans who: (i) during active duty service, suffered an injury or illness documented by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs or a branch of the armed forces which was a proximate cause of their death; or (ii) are missing in action with a presumptive finding of death as a result of active duty service as members of the armed forces of the United States; provided, however, that the real estate shall be occupied by the surviving spouse as the surviving spouse’s domicile; and provided further, that the surviving spouse shall have been domiciled in the commonwealth for the 5 consecutive years immediately before the date of filing for an exemption pursuant to this clause or the soldier or sailor, member of the National Guard or veteran was domiciled in the commonwealth for at least 6 months before entering service.
      A surviving spouse eligible for an exemption pursuant to this clause shall be eligible regardless of when the soldier, sailor, member of the National Guard or veteran died or became missing in action with a presumptive finding of death; provided, however, that the exemption shall only apply to tax years beginning on or after January 1, 2017. Such exemption shall be available until such time as the surviving spouse dies or remarries.
      No real estate shall be exempt under this clause if it was conveyed to the surviving spouse to evade taxation. The amount of the exemption 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 for this exemption.
      SECTION 10.  Said section 5 of said chapter 59, as so appearing, is hereby further amended by inserting after the word “paraplegics”, in line 866,  the following words:- or have a disability rating of 100 per cent for service-connected blindness.
      SECTION 11.  Section 2C of chapter 60 of the General Laws, as so appearing, is hereby amended by inserting after the word “penalty”, in line 57, the following words:- ; provided, however, that the municipality shall not arrange for and assign or transfer to a purchaser the right to receive payments if the treasurer or tax collector of the municipality receives notice before the transfer that the taxpayer is a veteran as defined in section 7 of chapter 4.
      SECTION 12.  Said chapter 60 is hereby further amended by inserting after section 3E the following section:-
      Section 3F.  A city, town or district that accepts this section may  designate a place on its municipal property tax bills or motor vehicle excise bills or mail with such bills a separate form whereby taxpayers of the city, town or district may voluntarily check off, donate and pledge an amount of money which shall increase the amount already due to establish and fund a municipal veterans assistance fund which shall be under the supervision of the local veterans agent, the board or officer in charge of the collection of the municipal charge, fee or fine or the town collector of taxes.
Money in the fund shall be used to provide support for veterans and their dependents in need of immediate assistance with food, transportation, heat and oil expenses. The city, town or district’s veterans’ services department shall: (i) establish an application process for veterans and their dependents to obtain assistance; (ii) establish standards for acceptable documentation of veteran status or dependent status; and (iii) establish financial eligibility criteria for determining need and amount of assistance for eligible applicants. The veterans’ services department shall be responsible for reviewing each applicant and fairly applying the eligibility and level-of-need standards.
      SECTION 13.  Section 1 of chapter 60A of the General Laws, as appearing in the 2014 Official Edition, is hereby amended by striking out the eighth paragraph and inserting in place thereof the following paragraph:-
      The excise imposed by this chapter shall not apply to a motor vehicle owned and registered by or leased to a resident who is in active and full-time military service as a member in the armed forces of the United States or the national guard, army or air, of any state and has been deployed or stationed outside the territorial boundaries of the commonwealth for a period of at least 180 continuous days in the calendar year of the exemption. If the military member is wounded or killed in an armed conflict, the military member shall not be subject to the foregoing period of service qualification for the calendar year in which he is wounded or killed. This exemption shall apply only to a motor vehicle owned and registered by or leased to a military member in the military member’s own name or jointly with a spouse for a noncommercial purpose. A military member shall qualify for this exemption for only 1 motor vehicle for each calendar year. The motor vehicle shall not be operated on the ways of the commonwealth and operation shall be subject to the penalties in section 9 of chapter 90.
      SECTION 14.  Section 2 of chapter 90 of the General Laws, as so appearing, is hereby amended by inserting after the twenty-first paragraph the following paragraph:-
      The registrar shall recognize the eligibility of the next of kin of a member of the military, in possession of a Gold Star Lapel Button under regulations prescribed by the United States Secretary of Defense to obtain a “Gold Star Family” registration plate. Possession of a Gold Star Lapel Button and a letter of approval, each of which has been issued by the United States Department of Defense, shall be sufficient proof of eligibility for the registrar to furnish a Gold Star Family registration plate. The possession of a Gold Star Lapel Button shall not be a requirement of eligibility for persons who have otherwise presented satisfactory evidence of Gold Star family member status as determined by the registrar.
      SECTION 15.  The first paragraph of section 3 of chapter 115 of the General Laws, as so appearing, is hereby amended by striking out the first sentence and inserting in place thereof the following sentence:- The mayor of each city, except Boston, and the board of selectmen of each town may appoint a veterans’ agent who shall serve for a term of up to 3 years and shall be eligible for reappointment.  The veterans’ agent may act for the mayor or the board of selectmen in the disbursement of veterans’ benefits by the city or town; provided, however, that in each town that has a part-time veterans’ agent, the town clerk shall receive applications and assist applicants for veterans’ benefits and shall submit the applications to the veterans’ agent.
      SECTION 16.  Chapter 115A of the General Laws is hereby amended by adding the following section:-
      Section 12.  (a) There shall be within the department of veterans’ services an office of veterans’ homes and housing. The commissioner of veterans’ services shall appoint an executive director of veterans’ homes and housing who shall have: (i) at least 5 years of management, healthcare experience and (ii) military or other experience working with veterans.  The duties of the executive director shall include, but not be limited to: (i) oversight of the office; and (ii) service as an advisor to the commissioner of veterans’ services on matters relative to veterans’ housing. The position of executive director shall be classified pursuant to section 45 of chapter 30.  The executive director may, with the approval of the commissioner of veterans’ services, appoint and remove any employees necessary to carry out the duties of the office. Unless otherwise provided by law, all such appointments and removals shall be made pursuant to chapter 31. The office shall: (i) coordinate and oversee implementation and enforcement of laws, regulations and policies relative to the veterans’ homes and other housing for veterans; and (ii) investigate and make recommendations on best practices for providing housing for veterans. The executive director shall meet with the board of trustees of the Soldiers’ Home in Massachusetts and the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke jointly at least twice per calendar year. The executive director shall have access to all property of the commonwealth under the oversight of the department of veterans services to carry out the duties of the office; provided, however, that the boards of trustees of the Soldiers’ Home in Massachusetts and the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke shall not be subject to the control of the executive director; and provided further, that the executive director shall not have control over the day-to-day operations of the Soldiers’ Home in Massachusetts or the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke.
      (b)  Annually, not later than November 1, the office shall submit a report to the general court on the state of the soldiers’ homes. The report shall include findings relative to: (i) the quality of care provided at the homes; (ii) the financial status of the homes; (iii) the uniformity of programs at the homes; (iv) the capital needs of the homes; and (v) the status of the United States Department of Veterans Affairs’ accreditation, including the efforts necessary to maintain compliance and the efforts necessary to become fully compliant with the United States Department of Veterans Affairs’ standards at each soldiers’ home. The report shall also include an analysis of activities of the office, including a summary of activities undertaken to implement uniform intake policies and procedures, patient and resident eligibility requirements and rate-setting functions between the Soldiers’ Home in Massachusetts and the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke. The office shall submit the report to the governor and to the clerks of the house of representatives and senate and the clerks shall forward the report to the joint committee on veterans and federal affairs, the joint committee on public health and the joint committee on housing. 
      SECTION 17.  The third paragraph of section 32 of chapter 121B of the General Laws, as appearing in the 2014 Official Edition, is hereby amended by adding the following sentence:-       Notwithstanding any general or special law to the contrary, in communities where no low-income family housing was developed pursuant to chapter 200 of the acts of 1948, preference in admission shall be given to veterans for all scattered site housing units acquired by a local housing authority pursuant to chapter 705 of the acts of 1966.
      SECTION 18.  The fifth paragraph of said section 32 of said chapter 121B, as so appearing, is hereby amended by striking out the second sentence and inserting in place thereof the following sentence:- In determining the net income for the purpose of computing the rent of a disabled veteran who is not able to work, a housing authority shall exclude amounts of disability compensation paid by the United States government for disability occurring in connection with military service in excess of $1800; provided, however, that such exclusion shall apply only to state-aided projects as provided in sections 35 and 36.
      SECTION 19.  Section 39 of said chapter 121B, as so appearing, is hereby amended by striking out the sixth paragraph and inserting in place thereof the following paragraph:-
Among persons who are eligible and qualified for housing pursuant to this section, a preference shall be given to veterans.
      SECTION 20. Section 40 of said chapter 121B, as so appearing, is hereby amended by striking out paragraph (d) and inserting in place thereof the following paragraph:-
      (d)  In all housing for elderly persons of low income and handicapped persons of low income there shall be a preference in admission for eligible and qualified applicants who are veterans.
      SECTION 21.  Section 52A½ of chapter 149 of the General Laws, as so appearing, is hereby amended by striking out the first paragraph and inserting in place thereof the following paragraph:-
      Any employee who is a veteran as defined in clause Forty-third of section 7 of chapter 4 or is a member of a department of war veterans listed in section 17 of chapter 8, and who desires to participate in a Veterans Day or Memorial Day exercise, parade or service shall be allowed and granted a leave of absence, with or without pay at the discretion of their employer, of sufficient time to participate in such services in their community of residence; provided, however, that employers with at least 50 employees shall grant the leave of absence on Veterans Day with pay if the employee provides reasonable notice for such leave.
      SECTION 22.  Section 4 of chapter 151B of the General Laws, as so appearing, is hereby amended by striking out, in lines 5 and 6, and 74, the words “or ancestry” and inserting in place thereof, in each instance,  the following words:- ancestry or status as a veteran.
      SECTION 23.  Said section 4 of said chapter 151B, as so appearing, is hereby further amended by striking out, in line 89, the words “or ancestry” and inserting in place thereof the following words:- , ancestry or status as a veteran.
      SECTION 24.  Said section 4 of said chapter 151B, as so appearing, is hereby further  amended by inserting after the word “ancestry”, in line 93, the following words:- , status as a veteran.
      SECTION 25.  Section 17 of chapter 260 of the acts of 2006 is hereby repealed.
      SECTION 26.  Chapter 62 of the acts of 2014 is hereby amended by striking out section 29 and inserting in place thereof the following section:-
      Section 29.  (a) There shall be a Massachusetts post-deployment commission to make recommendations regarding the implementation of a program to support servicemembers transitioning to civilian life after deployment.  The department of veterans’ services shall convene the commission.
      (b)  The commission shall consist of the secretary of health and human services or a designee from the executive staff of the executive office of health and human services, the secretary of veterans’ services or a designee, who shall serve as chair, 3 members of the senate, of whom 1 shall be a member of the joint committee on veterans and federal affairs, 1 shall be a member of the joint committee on mental health and substance abuse and 1 shall be appointed by the minority leader of the senate, 3 members of the house of representatives, of whom 1 shall be a member of the joint committee on veterans and federal affairs, 1 shall be a member of the joint committee on mental health and substance abuse and 1 shall be appointed by the minority leader of the house of representatives, the adjutant general of the national guard or a designee, the commissioner of the Massachusetts rehabilitation commission or a designee, the undersecretary of housing and community development or a designee, the secretary of labor and workforce development or a designee, the secretary of education or a designee, the president of Brave for Veterans, Inc., the executive director of Quabbin Mediation, Inc., the president of Soldier On, Inc. or a designee and 15 persons to be appointed by the governor, of whom 2 shall be members of the Home Base Program established by the Red Sox Foundation and Massachusetts General Hospital, 2 shall be veterans’ agents as defined in section 1 of chapter 115 of the General Laws, 2 shall be members of the Massachusetts Coalition for Suicide Prevention, 2 shall be members of the Massachusetts Psychological Association Inc., 1 shall be a member of the board of directors of the Massachusetts Association of Realtors and 5 shall be persons chosen from a list of nominees submitted by each of the following organizations: the Massachusetts Coalition for Suicide Prevention, the Massachusetts Psychological Association Inc., the Massachusetts Psychiatric Society, Inc., the Massachusetts Association for Mental Health, Inc., the Association for Behavioral Healthcare, Inc., the Massachusetts Veterans’ Service Officers Association, the Massachusetts Women Veterans’ Network, The Red Sox Foundation, Inc. and the 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 commission shall perform and make recommendations pertaining to 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 servicemembers returning to civilian life post-deployment for assistance with education, employment, healthcare, housing and other services; (v) providing recommendations for improving communication between mental health support services and veterans who may benefit from such services; (vi) developing recommendations for providing mental health counseling services to treat post-traumatic stress injuries for post-deployment veterans; and (vii) 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 servicemembers upon discharge; (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 (6) 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 commission may hold public hearings to assist in the collection and evaluation of data and testimony.
      (d)  Appointments to the commission shall be made on or before October 1, 2016 and the commission shall hold its first meeting not later than November 1, 2016. The members of the commission shall elect a vice chair at the first meeting.
      (e)  The commission shall submit its findings and recommendations, including a detailed reentry program plan relative to service members who return to civilian life after deployment, together with drafts of legislation necessary to carry those recommendations into effect, by filing the same with the clerks of the senate and house of representatives, 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 17, 2017.
      SECTION 27.  Subsection (b) of section 32 of said chapter 62 is hereby amended by striking out the figure “16” and inserting in place thereof the following figure:- 17.
      SECTION 28.  Said subsection (b) of said section 32 of said chapter 62 is hereby further amended by inserting after the word “veterans”, in line 18, the following words:- ; the president of Soldier On, Inc. or a designee.
      SECTION 29.  Subsection (d) of said section 32 of said chapter 62 is hereby amended by striking out, in line 3, the words “April 30, 2015” and inserting in place thereof the following words:- January 30, 2018.
      SECTION 30.  The department of corrections and the executive office of health and human services shall study the feasibility and costs associated with transporting incarcerated disabled veterans that are eligible for treatment through the United States Department of Veterans Affairs to medical facilities operated by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs.
      SECTION 31.  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 on the percentage of disability of the veteran for the awarding of the 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 the senate, the house and senate committees on ways and means and the joint committee on veterans and federal affairs not later than March 15, 2017.
      SECTION 32.  The office of veterans’ homes and housing, in consultation with the department of revenue, shall study the feasibility of offering a tax rebate to a landlord who leases a dwelling unit to a veteran, as defined in section 7 of chapter 4 of the General Laws, or a dependent of a veteran who receives veterans’ benefits pursuant to chapter 115 of the General Laws at a rate below fair market value. The office 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, 2017.

Approved, July 14, 2016.