June 16, 2016
Boston– Today the Massachusetts State Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 2325 “An Act Relative to Housing, Operations, Military Service, and Enrichment”, The Massachusetts HOME Act. This legislation expands on the commitment the Massachusetts Senate has to our veterans, servicemembers and their families by providing benefits and services.
The passage of the Valor Act I in 2012 and Valor Act II in 2014 helped Massachusetts become the number one state in the nation for providing for our veterans.
“Massachusetts leads the nation in services and support for our veterans, active servicemembers and their families and the legislation we passed today was a clear continuation of those efforts,” said Senator Ross. “For all that our brave men and women have given this country, they deserve to know that their government and elected officials have their back when they return home, and I believe this legislation confirms this.”
Focusing on housing and long-term support, the passage of the Veterans HOME Act continues the strong reputation that Massachusetts has as a leader in understanding the sacrifice that military personnel and their families make not only while on active duty, but also after returning home.
To increase access to housing for veterans, the bill grants veterans preference in admission for scattered site housing units where no low-income family housing was developed. The bill also requires housing authorities to exclude amounts of disability compensation paid by the federal government for the purpose of computing rent of a disabled veteran. In addition, the bill gives eligible veterans a preference in housing for the elderly and person with liabilities in all communities, not only the community in which the veteran resides.
To honor the service of veterans and their families, the bill provides a property tax exemption for the surviving spouse of any soldier, sailor, and member of the National Guard or veteran who, during active duty service, suffered an injury or illness which was the proximate cause of death. The bill also gives veterans who have a 100% disability rating for service connected blindness a property tax exemption.
Senator Ross was pleased to see two of his amendments included in the final bill. The first ensures that any employee who is a veteran or is a member of a department of war veterans shall be allowed and granted a leave of absence on Veterans Day and Memorial Day, with pay—currently not a requirement under Massachusetts law.
The second would make veterans eligible to pay in-state tuition rates at the University of Massachusetts, or any other state or community college or university if he or she was honorably discharged from the US armed services after at least 1 year of active service, and either designates the Commonwealth as his or her intended domicile or moves to the Commonwealth and successfully establishes residency within 1 year after matriculation. Presently, a student must have lived in Massachusetts for the 12 months immediately preceding their enrollment at a state university or UMass, and for the 6 months immediately preceding their enrollment in a community college. This measure would allow veterans to attend one of these quality schools at the lower cost charged to Massachusetts residents, while bypassing the extended residency requirement, seeking to make higher education easier and more accessible.
“We can never thank our courageous and valiant veterans enough for all that they have sacrificed, however as a thank you for their service we can ensure that our heroes always have countless opportunities right here in the Commonwealth,” said Senator Ross.
Other provisions of this Act include:
- The expansion of the Public Service Scholarship to children of any military or service person missing in action and children of prisoners of war;
- Allows employees of the Commonwealth who are members of the armed forces reserves and are ordered to service for more than 30 consecutive to be paid the regular base salary reduced by the amount received as base pay for military service. It also preserves the seniority or accrued leave time;
- Allows cities and towns to appoint a veterans agent for 3 year terms instead of the current 1 year term;
- Creates a post-deployment commission to study ways to improve services to veterans who have been deployed overseas;
- Adds veteran status as a protected class under the statute prohibiting discrimination in employment.
The bill will now be reconciled with the version passed by the House of Representatives before being sent to the Governor for his signature.
Please contact the office of Senator Ross with any questions or concerns at (617) 722-1555 or Richard.Ross@masenate.gov.