Senate Passes Package of Bills to Protect, Assist, and Honor Current and Former Military Service Members

May 23, 2017

Measures Recognize and Protect Physical, Emotional, and Economic Well-Being of Veterans and Active Duty Members of the Armed Forces

The Senate today passed a wide variety of bills all aimed at caring for and memorializing the courageous men and women who have served in our military, as well as those still serving today. The legislative package will safeguard the welfare of those who protect our lives, ease their fiscal burdens, show them the path to crucial benefits, and venerate their service to this country.

Senator Thomas Croci (R, Sayville), Chairman of the Veterans, Homeland Security, and Military Affairs Committee, said, “Our Military men and women, who sacrifice their lives, time away from home and their families, deserve so much from us to show our appreciation.  The last thing they should have to look for are the basic courtesies we provide to every first responder, who also sacrifice so much.  This package of legislation provides our military and our veterans with many of those basic opportunities that make their lives safe and a little easier.  These bills take into consideration what each service member, active or veteran, forfeits on a daily basis for their willingness to serve and protect.  I applaud and congratulate my colleagues in the Senate for championing the cause of all who serve, ensuring that they did not give up the basics for their extraordinary service.”

Protecting our Service Members:

· Increasing Penalties for Violence against Active Duty and Reserve Military Members: Bill S927 establishes a class D felony for the crime of inciting violence against both active duty and reserve military service members in an effort to curb the destructive trend of targeting those who have made a career out of protecting the citizens of this country. Bill S955 makes it a class C felony to commit assault against an active-duty soldier if the accused’s intent was to prevent that soldier from performing their lawful duty. Both measures are sponsored by Senator Croci.

Making it More Affordable to Live in New York:

· Establishing a Task Force on Veteran Employment Opportunities: Bill S936, sponsored by Senator Croci, creates a task force to study and improve the job market for veterans. The task force, to be made up of stakeholders within state government, the private sector, and institutions of higher education, will be charged with holding annual public hearings and making recommendations to the legislature regarding ways the state can assist those who served our country in finding and maintaining meaningful employment opportunities;

· Helping Veterans Afford a Home: Bill S5158, sponsored by Senator Mike Ranzenhofer (R-C-I, Amherst), assists service-related disabled veterans in affording a home by giving those with a VA disability rating of 40 percent or higher a preference in applications to the state’s Affordable Home Ownership Development Program;

Senator Ranzenhofer said, “Our disabled veterans have given their health to defend our freedoms, and we owe them a debt of gratitude. While it can never truly be repaid, this legislation helps disabled veterans sustain a good quality of life by making it more affordable to own a home.”

· Assisting More Veterans in Applying for Public Housing: Bill S1482, sponsored by Senator Tony Avella (D, Bayside), expands eligibility for veterans in public housing to include those of recent conflicts, and requires granting of a preference for public housing to veterans or families of veterans who have a military service connected disability;

· Providing Tax Relief to Reservists Called to Active Duty: Bill S959, sponsored by Senator Croci, allows municipalities to offer the alternative veterans’ property tax exemption to members of the military who are currently serving on active duty. Under current law, individuals who are in active military service need to wait until their service in uniform is finished in order to receive the tax benefits extended by participating municipalities;

· Providing Tax Relief to Reservists Called to Active Duty: Bill S2520A, sponsored by Senator Patrick M. Gallivan, allows the governing body of a city, village, town, or county to exempt reservists called to active duty from property taxes. The exemption, which would span the time of active duty, would ease the financial burden that reservists and their families often face when they are called upon to serve;

Senator Gallivan said, “The brave men and women of our military sacrifice so much to keep our country and our citizens safe.  Allowing local governments to provide property tax exemptions to reservists while on active duty will ease the financial burden their families may face and is an expression of the community’s gratitude for their service.”· Extending Property Tax Exemptions to Certain Reservist Veterans: Bill S5411, sponsored by Senator Croci, permits towns to offer reserve military veterans who participated in Operation Graphic Hand the alternative veteran property tax exemption.Connecting Service Members and Veterans with Important Services for them and their Families:

· Ensuring Continuity of Care for Service Members’ Families: Bill S5807, sponsored by Senator Robert Ortt (R-C-I, North Tonawanda), ensures that service members who have dependent family members with developmental disabilities continue to receive services from the state without interruption to guarantee better continuity of care and better outcomes for the individual;

Senator Ortt, Chairman of the Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Committee, said, “This bill provides some comfort to military families whose loved ones are many miles away defending our country. As public officials, we have a commitment to provide the best support services possible to our heroes and their family members who depend on them. This bill allows us to keep that promise by ensuring that dependents with a developmental disability continue to receive vital services without interruption.”

· Giving All Active Duty Members of the Military Greater Access to State Parks: Bill S3571, sponsored by Senator Fred Akshar (R-C-I-Reform, Colesville), streamlines the process for active duty service members to receive their free Empire Passport for state park usage. Current law requires the Empire Passport to be filled out annually and to be received in the mail, making the entire process lengthy and cumbersome. Active duty service members and their immediate family would instead be eligible for the free pass by providing their military ID upon entry;

Senator Akshar said, “Veterans put their lives on the line and sacrifice so much, it’s crucial we don’t forget about them after they return home. We are a state and a nation that honors and supports those who have and continue to protect the freedoms we hold dear. I'm proud to join my colleagues in the Senate in doing what we can to say 'Thank You' and let our veterans know we have their back.”· Simplifying the Process for Military Personnel to be Married: Bill S1013, sponsored by Senator Joseph Robach (R-C-I, Rochester), authorizes military personnel scheduled for deployment in less than 30 days to get married within 24 hours of receiving their marriage license. Currently the mandatory waiting period of 24 hours for couples to get married is a hindrance to those expected to serve our country overseas and on short notice;

Senator Robach said, “Given the sacrifice, coupled with the unique circumstances of serving in active duty, S1013 will better accommodate the requests of some of our brave men and women in the military with their personal and family lives. Military families who are facing a deployment have a number of logistical items to take care of and this legislation ensures that the ability to marry without a waiting period is not one of them. This is one small favor we can do to accommodate their time frame. We cannot thank the men and women who serve our nation in uniform enough; today’s passage of legislation that protects, assists and honors current and former members of the military is certainly a step in the right direction.”

· Expand Opportunities and Services Available to Service-Disabled Veterans: Bill S2424B, sponsored by Senator Jesse E. Hamilton (D, 20th District), directs the State Division of Veterans’ Affairs to develop a plan for a comprehensive statewide program of coordinated services for service-disabled veterans. The plan would include: educational training and retraining services and facilities; health, medical, and rehabilitation services; employment and re-employment services; housing options; transportation options; long-term care options; personal care; day program service options; family outreach; and other essential services that maximize existing resources.

Showing Respect for and Recognition of Military Personnel:

· Increasing Availability to Financial Relief for Blind Veterans: Bill S200, sponsored by Senator Kathy Marchione (R-C-I-Reform, Halfmoon), provides an increase in the base rates of annuities payable to blind veterans and surviving spouses of blind veterans from $1,000 to $1,500. It also clarifies the formula for annual increases to take into account the latest federal increase for veterans’ annuities;

Senator Marchione said, “Our freedom is not free. America's true heroes, our veterans, have paid freedom's cost through their service and sacrifice. We are forever indebted to all veterans who have protected our liberty and made our way of life possible. Increasing the base rates of annuities payable to blind veterans, and their spouses, is one of many ways we can say 'thank you' and help meet the needs of our veterans. This Memorial Day and every day, let us never forget the fact that America is the home of the free because of the brave.”

· Commemorating the Service of Veterans with Personalized License Plates: Bill S4464, sponsored by Senator Chris Jacobs (R-C-I, 60th District), authorizes the issuance of distinctive license plates for veterans while also exempting them from the one-time service and annual registration fees to keep their license plates updated;

Senator Jacobs said, “Veterans of our armed forces and the brave men and women currently serving and protecting our country should be allowed to commemorate that service without additional financial sacrifice. In recognition and appreciation of their service, my bill eliminates the one-time service fee and the annual registration fee associated with customized military distinctive license plates.”

The bills have been sent to the Assembly.

Senators Involved