State Laws to Help Veterans

Today, America honors the men and women who served or are serving in the military.  Here are several state laws which help veterans and their families. CSG has or will feature several of these laws in its Suggested State Legislation books.

Iowa SF 399, enacted in 2011, addresses Veterans Benefit Appeal Services. This Act defines “veterans benefits appeal services” as services which a veteran might reasonably require in order to appeal a denial of federal or state veterans benefits, including but not limited to denials of disability, limited-income, home loan, insurance, education and training, burial and memorial, and dependent and survivor benefits. It directs that such services put in their advertising a notice that similar appeals services are offered at no cost by counties or veterans affairs offices operated by the state.

Michigan Public Act 138, enacted in 2008, addresses Stays of Mortgage Foreclosure Proceedings Against Military Service Members. This Act provides for a court to stay mortgage foreclosure proceedings for six months after the end of a defendant's military service, if the defendant were a service member and either had entered into the mortgage or land contract before becoming a service member or were deployed in overseas service. (This refers to a "defendant" in an action to foreclose a mortgage on real estate or a land contract.)

The Uniform Military and Overseas Voters Act (ULC). According to this staff summary by the Uniform Law Commissioners:

“Military personnel and overseas civilians face a variety of challenges to their participation as voters in U.S. elections, despite repeated congressional and state efforts to facilitate their ability to vote. These include difficulty in registering abroad, frequent address changes, slow mail delivery or ballots and ballot applications that never arrive, difficulty in obtaining information about candidates or issues, the inability to comply with notarization or verification procedures, or the voter’s failure to properly comply with non-essential requirements for absentee materials. The federal Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act of 1986 (UOCAVA) and Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act of 2009 (MOVE), as well as the various state efforts, have not been wholly effective in overcoming difficulties that these voters face.  The federal laws do not encompass state and local elections. Further, American elections are conducted at the state and local levels under procedures that vary dramatically by jurisdiction, and many are conducted independent of the federal elections to which UOCAVA and the MOVE Act do apply. This lack of uniformity, and lack of application of the federal statutes to state and local elections, complicates efforts to more fully enfranchise these voters.

At its 2010 Annual Meeting, the National Uniform Law Commission promulgated the Uniform Military and Overseas Voters Act (UMOVA) to address these issues.  UMOVA extends to state elections the assistance and protections for military and overseas voters currently found in federal law. It seeks greater harmony for the military and overseas voting process for all covered elections, over which the states will continue to have primary administrative responsibility. Key highlights of UMOVA include:

>  The Act simplifies and expands, in common sense fashion, the class of covered voters and covered elections.  “Uniformed service” includes the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corp, Coast Guard, Merchant Marine, commissioned corps of the Public Health Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of the U.S., National Guard, and state militia units. The definition of “covered voter” is expanded from federal usage to include overseas citizens who have not established a specific residence in the U.S. but who have demonstrable ties to a certain state.  The act applies to primary, general, special, and runoff elections, or their equivalent, at the federal, state, and local levels for elected candidates and ballot issues. 

>  The Act establishes reasonable, standard timetables for application, registration, and provision of ballots and election information for covered voters.  Importantly, the act requires transmission of ballots and balloting materials to all covered voters who have applied no later than 45 days prior to the election, unless the state has received a waiver under the federal MOVE Act.  Further, the act extends expanded use of the Federal Post Card Application and Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot for registration and voting purposes in covered elections.

>  The Act provides for the determination of the address that should be used for active-duty military and overseas voters.  An eligible voter’s voting address shall be the last residential address in the enacting state, or that of the eligible voter’s parent or legal guardian for citizens born outside of the U.S. that have not established residency.  If the address is no longer residential, then the voter must be assigned an address. 

>  The Act allows voters to make use of electronic transmission methods for applications and receipt of registration and balloting materials, and tracking the status of applications.  Allowance of electronic submission of voted ballots is left to existing state law.  The act defines the obligations of the state’s primary election authority with regard to providing information on voting registration procedures, ballot casting procedures, and the form and content of necessary declarations to accompany such, for covered voters.  If provided, a voter’s e-mail address may not be disclosed to third parties, and may only be used by the election authority for communications about the voting process, transmission of ballots and materials, and necessary verifications related to the act.

> Under the Act, a ballot is timely cast if received by the local election official before the close of polls on election day, or submitted for mailing or transmission no later than 12:01 AM on the date of the election.  A ballot must be counted if it is delivered to the appropriate state or local election official by the close of business on the business day before the final deadline for completing the canvass or other tabulation to finalize election results.  

> The Act requires votes to be counted where non-essential requirements are not complied with, and obviates notarization requirements where the proper declaration is made and subject to penalty of perjury. 

The new UMOVA uses and builds upon the key requirements of UOCAVA and MOVE, and extends the important protections and benefits of these acts to voting in covered state and local elections.  UMOVA will help to facilitate compliance with the federal Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act of 1986 (UOCAVA) and Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act of 2009 (MOVE), and help to more fully and effectively enfranchise our military personnel and overseas civilians.”

A 2009 SSL draft entitled Unclaimed Veterans’ Cremains gives veterans’ organizations the right to receive the cremains of a veteran which have not been claimed by a relative or friend of the deceased within a certain time after cremation, and upon certification to the state commissioner of health and senior services that a diligent effort has been made to identify, locate and notify a relative or friend of the deceased within that time. The Act also specifies that veterans organizations receiving the cremains must be 501(c)(3) or 501(c)(19) tax-exempt veterans organizations or federally chartered Veterans Service Organizations. The Act grants immunity from damages arising from civil actions to funeral homes, mortuaries, and qualified veterans organizations for disposing cremains pursuant to the Act unless damages were the result of gross negligence or willful misconduct. The SSL draft Act is based on New Jersey P.L. 2009, Chapter 14.

The 2009 SSL draft entitled Child Custody and Visitation During Military Temporary Duty, Deployment, or Mobilization establishes procedures to expedite hearings on child custody and visitation issues for service members who are absent or about to depart for duty. It is based on North Carolina Session Law 2007-175.

A 2008 SSL draft entitled Military Family Relief establishes a military family relief fund to provide grants for essential family support expenses to the families of Indiana residents who are members of the National Guard or the armed forces reserves and have been called to active duty after September 11, 2001. It allows the state veterans’ affairs commission to establish the eligibility criteria and application and selection procedures for the grants. The bill requires the state director of veterans’ affairs to report to the budget committee before August 1, 2006, on the grant determination procedures to be used.

This bill creates a veteran license plate and specifies that the plate is not a special group recognition license plate. The legislation provides for the collection of a $15 annual supplemental fee at the time a vehicle plated with a veteran license plate is registered, which is to be deposited in the military family relief fund. The Act creates a support our troops license plate and specifies that the plate is not a special recognition license plate. It provides for the collection of a $20 annual supplemental fee at the time a vehicle plated with a support our troops license plate is registered, which is to be deposited in the military family relief fund. This SSL draft is based on Indiana Senate Enrolled Act 75, as enacted in 2006.

Other recent state legislation about veterans and military service men and women includes:

Illinois Public Act 0096-0093 of 2009 and Nevada AB 187 of 2009 created Veterans Courts. The Illinois Act creates a task force to investigate and develop a statutory basis for a specialized military and veterans’ court system to handle service-related problems of veterans living in the state. Such problems include drug and alcohol abuse, mental health conditions, and problematic social interactions.

The Nevada Act authorizes a district court to establish a program to treat defendants who are veterans or members of the military. This Act authorizes a court to suspend further proceedings, without entering a judgment of conviction and with the consent of an eligible defendant, and to place the defendant on probation with terms conditions that include successful completion of the program of treatment. The Act also generally prohibits a court from assigning a defendant to a program of treatment if the defendant committed an offense for which the suspension of sentence or the granting of probation is prohibited by existing law; committed an offense that involved the use of force or violence; or was previously convicted of a felony that involved the use or threatened use of force or violence.

Virginia SB1495, enacted in 2009, addresses Unemployment Compensation for Military Spouses. This Act provides that good cause for leaving employment exists if an employee voluntarily leaves a job to accompany the employee's spouse, who is on active duty in the military or naval services of the United States, to a new military-related assignment established pursuant to a permanent change of duty order from which the employee's place of employment is not reasonably accessible. The measure applies only if the state to which the spouse is transferred has a similar provision, unless the transfer involves members of the National Guard relocated within the state. Benefits paid to qualifying claimants shall be charged against the pool rather than against the claimant's employer. The measure shall become effective if the federal government appropriates funds for this purpose.

New Jersey Chapter 125 of 2009, addresses Troops to College. The Act directs the state commission on higher education, in consultation with the state department of military and veterans’ affairs, to establish a program to help public institutions of higher education in the state provide a comprehensive array of services to help veterans go to college. Such services include helping vets apply for state and federal student financial aid, counseling, appointing a campus veterans’ assistance officer and establishing an online resource specifically for veterans attending college.