The Massachusetts Legislature has passed comprehensive legislation, An Act relative to military spouse-licensure portability, education and enrollment of dependents, addressing the Commonwealth’s most immediate needs in the veteran community and making necessary updates to service member quality-of-life issues and acknowledgements of our military branches and individual service, including supporting military families who relocate to the Commonwealth with expedited licensure and school enrollment, creating education awareness programs, and establishing the Massachusetts Medal of Fidelity.
“Our veterans are the best and bravest among us, and while we can never truly repay them for their service to this country, veterans are more than deserving of continued support from those in public office,” said House Speaker Ronald J. Mariano (D-Quincy). “I’m proud that today, with the best interest of our veterans in mind, the Legislature passed legislation that responds to immediate needs in the veteran community such as access to school enrolment for military families that have recently relocated to Massachusetts, and that establishes health education awareness programs and additional acknowledgements of military service, among other provisions.
Highlights of the legislation include:
Military spouse licensure portability: requires the Division of Occupational Licensure, the Department of Public Health, and Massachusetts Boards of Registration to accept a military spouse’s application for licensure or notify them of what criteria they were not able to meet within 30 days of the application.
Expedited military spouse teacher licenses: establishes a military spouse certificate to be issued by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner to military spouse teachers that meet certain requirements.
School enrollment for military children: allows military families to register and enroll in a school district when a service member first receives their relocation order, waiving the proof of residency requirement at the time of registration. This provision also allows military children who are transferring mid-semester to enroll in and attend one of the Commonwealth’s virtual schools.
Purple Star campus designation: establishes the Purple Star Campus Program, to be administered by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, to designate schools that demonstrate a commitment to students and families of service members.
In-state tuition continuity for military-connected college students: ensures that a member of the military stationed in the Commonwealth, their spouse, or their children are deemed an in-state resident after their acceptance at one of the state’s higher education institutions.
Civilian licensure and certification information: directs the Commissioner of Veterans’ Services to make information on civilian licensure and certification opportunities available to service members and veterans and provide information on military education and skills to relevant agencies.
Open Burn Pit Registry:
· Directs the Commissioner of the Department of Public Health (DPH), in consultation with the Commissioner of the Department of Veterans’ Services and the Adjutant General of the National Guard, to develop educational materials and an informational pamphlet on the health impacts of open burn pits and other airborne hazards during overseas deployment and information on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry to be distributed to health care providers, veterans’ service offices and organizations, and service members and veterans.
· Directs the Commissioner of the Department of Veterans’ Services, in consultation with the Commissioner of DPH and the Adjutant General, to contact all members of the Armed Forces, National Guard and veterans to register for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry.
· Requires the Adjutant General to request that the periodic health assessment for National Guard members determine whether the member is eligible to participate in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry and if eligible, the member register for the Registry.
Massachusetts National Guard family education program: establishes a Massachusetts National Guard Family Education Program to allow National Guard members to transfer their unused education benefits under the National Guard Education Assistance Program to their dependents.
Slot machines at veterans’ organizations commission: establishes a commission to study and report on limited slot machine licenses for veteran organizations.
Veteran Mentor Program: enables the UMass system, including UMass Amherst and UMass Lowell, Bridgewater State University, and Salem State University to establish veteran mentoring pilot programs to assist veterans attending their institutions adjust to civilian life.
Property tax exemption clarification: prohibits a city or town from requesting further evidence from a disabled veteran in subsequent tax years after the veteran has been granted a property tax exemption by the assessor of that town, unless the veteran’s disability rating determined by the VA is reduced.
Founding anniversaries of U.S. Armed Forces: requires the Governor to set aside the founding date anniversaries of the U.S. Army, Air Force, Coast Guard, and Massachusetts National Guard.
Medal of Fidelity: establishes the Massachusetts Medal of Fidelity to be presented to the next of kin of a service member or veteran who died as a result of service-connected post-traumatic stress disorder service-connected condition resulting from a traumatic brain injury, or a service-connected disease, condition or injury related to exposure to harmful toxin, herbicides, agents, or materials.
Deborah Sampson Memorial Commission: establishes a commission to determine a location and create a memorial for Deborah Sampson, a Massachusetts resident who disguised herself as a man in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War.
Funeral and burial benefits: requires funeral directors and their staffs to provide information on burial and funeral benefits for veterans.
Tax credit for employment of National Guard members: establishes a tax credit for businesses that employ members of the National Guard.
This bill builds on multiple actions by the Legislature this session to support our Commonwealth’s veterans. Yesterday, the Massachusetts Legislature passed An Act relative to the governance, structure and care of veterans at the Commonwealth’s veterans’ homes, making key reforms to the governance structure of the state’s veterans’ homes, ensuring that both homes are federally licensed as health care facilities, mandating increased state management, and providing independent oversight and accountability of veterans’ homes management. In May 2021, the Legislature approved a $600 million bond authorization — with $400 million for the construction of an updated Holyoke Veterans' Home facility and $200 million to increase geographic equity and accessibility for veterans not primarily served by the veterans’ Homes in Chelsea or Holyoke.
Having been passed by the House and Senate, An Act relative to military spouse-licensure portability, education and enrollment of dependents, now goes to Governor Baker for his signature.