State Representative Donald H. Wong (R- Saugus) recently voted to support an omnibus veterans’ bill to assist military personnel and their families with benefits ranging from higher education tuition and burial expenses to licensure and certification requirements. House Bill 4978, An Act relative to military spouse-licensure portability, education and enrollment of dependents – also known as the SPEED Act – was engrossed by the House of Representatives on a vote of 154-0 on July 7. House Bill 4978 now moves to the Senate for its consideration.
Representative Wong noted that the House proposal establishes a Massachusetts National Guard Family Education Program that will allow National Guard members to transfer their unused education benefits provided under the National Guard Education Assistance Program to their children or dependents. The bill also classifies military personnel stationed in Massachusetts, as well as their spouse and children, as in-state residents for tuition purposes when they enroll at one of the state’s public colleges or universities.
Under the provisions of House Bill 4978, military families will also be allowed to register and enroll in a school district when a service member first receives their relocation order. The House proposal calls for waiving the existing proof of residency requirement at the time of registration.
Representative Wong noted that the bill also requires funeral directors and their staffs to provide information on burial and funeral benefits for veterans. The language is similar to a stand-alone bill filed by Representative Steven Howitt (R-Seekonk) that is currently pending before the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Health Care Financing.
House Bill 4978 also provides for the establishment of a new Massachusetts Medal of Fidelity to be provided to the next of kin of any Massachusetts service member or veteran who died because of combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or a service-connected disease, condition or injury related to exposure to harmful toxin, herbicides, agents or materials. Governor Charlie Baker originally filed this proposal during the 2019-2020 legislative session, and both he and House Minority Leader Bradley H. Jones, Jr. (R-North Reading) refiled this legislation for the current session.
The SPEED Act also creates a commission that will work to develop a suitable memorial to recognize the Official Heroine of the Commonwealth, Deborah Sampson, who fought during the American Revolutionary War after disguising herself as a man and enlisting in the Continental Army. The language mirrors a proposal that was filed by Representative David Vieira (R-Falmouth).
Representative Vieira also secured an amendment to House Bill 4978 that will provide certain qualifying businesses with a credit equal to $2,000 for every National Guard member they hire, and a potential second-year credit in the same amount. The credit will be made available to certain partnerships, limited liability corporations and other legal entities engaged in business in the Commonwealth that employ less than 100 employees.
According to Representative Wong, the House proposal also includes language that will help to expedite the issuance of professional licenses and certifications for individuals who are licensed in another state or whose spouse is a member of the armed forces. To ensure licensure portability, the bill requires the Division of Occupational Licensure, the Department of Public Health and the Massachusetts Boards of Registration to accept a military spouse’s application for licensure or notify the spouse of what criteria the spouse did not meet within 30 days of applying.
Under the SPEED Act, a military spouse certificate will be issued by the Commissioner of Education to military spouse teachers that meet certain requirements. This certificate will be valid for at least three years, with service under a military spouse certificate counted as service in acquiring professional teacher status, contingent upon the individual passing the applicable certification tests necessary for acquiring professional teacher status. The bill also requires the Commissioner of Veterans’ Services to make information on civilian licensure and certification opportunities available to service members and veterans and to provide relevant state agencies with information on military education and skills.
The SPEED ACT also:
- establishes a process for schools to be designated a Purple Star Campus by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
- authorizes the Massachusetts Gaming Commission to issue licenses for up to five slot machines to qualifying veterans organizations
- requires the Commissioner of Public Health – in consultation with the Commissioner of Veterans’ Services and the Adjutant General of the Massachusetts National Guard – to develop written educational materials about the health effects associated with chemicals identified at open burn pits in overseas military deployments for distribution to licensed healthcare providers and veterans
- requires the Commissioner of Veterans’ Services to create a database of self-identifying service members and veterans who have been exposed to open burn pits
• requires the Governor to annually issue proclamations recognizing the founding date anniversaries of the U.S. Army (June 14), Air Force (September 18), Coast Guard (August 4) and Massachusetts National Guard (December 14).