Bill will provide enhanced benefits for veterans in Massachusetts
House Minority Leader Bradley H. Jones, Jr. (R-North Reading) and Representative James Dwyer (D-Woburn) are supporting legislation providing enhanced benefits to Massachusetts veterans and their families.
House Bill 4525, An Act relative to veterans’ benefits, rights, appreciation, validation, and enforcement, also known as the BRAVE Act, passed the House of Representatives on a unanimous vote of 150-0 on May 23. The bill includes a series of initiatives to assist the Commonwealth’s veterans with their property taxes, funeral and burial expenses, and legal needs.
“The sacrifices made by our veterans and their families are many, and this bill represents a small token of our appreciation for their service to our country,” said Representative Jones.
“When American citizens enlist in our military, they are making a selfless act of heroism in our nation’s defense,” said Representative Dwyer. “This common sense bill is a way of saying thank you to our service men and women and their families.”
In addition to increasing the property tax exemption from $1,000 to $1,500 for veterans who perform volunteer work in their home community, the BRAVE Act provides a local option for cities and towns to annually adjust veterans property tax abatements based on the Consumer Price Index. Communities that adopt this provision would be able to increase their abatements by an amount not to exceed the cost of living increase for that year.
The bill also reduces the amount of time a veteran or surviving spouse must reside in the Commonwealth to qualify for real estate tax exemptions from five consecutive years to two consecutive years. In addition, the bill authorizes surviving parents or guardians of veterans who died in service to their country to receive a real estate credit on their property beginning on January 1, 2019.
Under the BRAVE Act, state funding assistance for indigent veterans’ funeral and burial costs would be doubled, from $2,000 to $4,000. This represents the first such increase in this benefit in 18 years.
An additional provision, inserted in the bill through an amendment filed by Representative Jones and supported by Representative Dwyer, requires the Department of Veterans Services to maintain and publish a list of law firms and organizations that offer pro bono legal representation for veterans. This list will be updated yearly, made available online, and distributed to Veterans Services Officers (VSO) across the state.
The BRAVE Act also:
- updates the current military campaign eligibility for the Welcome Home Bonus, and authorizes the family of a deceased service member to receive the $1,000 stipend;
- adds Prisoners of War (POWs) to the list of veterans eligible for a property tax abatement;
- allows municipalities to designate a “veterans-only” parking spot at their city or town hall during normal business hours;
- requires employers to provide employees who are veterans with time off, with or without pay, to observe Veterans Day;
- establishes a special commission to study the cost and feasibility of exempting veterans from tuition and fees when attending a public university, with a report due by December 31, 2018;
- allows combat medics to use their military training and experience to receive EMT certification in the Commonwealth without having to repeat duplicative classes;
- authorizes recipients of the Bronze Star to be eligible for Bronze Star License Plates through the Registry of Motor Vehicles; and
- allows qualifying individuals whose vehicles are owned by trusts, partnerships, or corporations to be eligible for Gold Star Family license plates.
The Senate previously approved its own version of the BRAVE Act on May 3. The House and Senate will now attempt to reconcile the differences between the two bills and reach agreement on a final bill that will be sent to Governor Charlie Baker for his signature.