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Guest MINDSETTER ™ Walter S. Felag, Jr: RI Senate’s Ongoing Commitment to RI Veterans

Friday, July 31, 2015


The 2015 legislative session was another meaningful year for our state’s veterans. I am very proud of all of the bills passed to honor our state’s veterans for the sacrifices so that we as Americans may live in a country based upon the ideals of freedom and democracy. My colleagues in the Senate and the House of Representatives deserve kudos for working cooperatively in the passage of these important bills, especially House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jan P. Malik, who is an ardent supporter of veterans’ issues.
The Rhode Island Senate, as part of its continuing “2013 The Rhode Back Home” veterans’ legislative commitment, passed several important pieces of legislation in the past few years that have been enacted into law. The report explored the state legislature’s role in shaping and expanding the veteran’s service system and focused on eight policy areas. This year’s new laws are designed to assist veterans and their families in obtaining and maintaining housing, increase access to educational opportunities, and more easily receive veterans’ discounts, as well as assist their families with final expenses at the Veterans Home, and transfer of Purple Heart license plates as keepsakes.
With passage and enactment of these bills, we are keeping our promise to enhance benefits for veterans in recognition of their unique state asset, and in doing so demonstrated our appreciation for their service to Rhode Island and our nation.
Among the new laws enacted this session are:
Enhanced Housing Access & Discrimination Protection (Sponsored by Sen. Felag/ Rep. Malik): This legislation ensures that, just as with marital status, military status cannot be used as a reason to prevent an individual from renting or buying a residence. The legislation protects veterans who have an honorable discharge or an honorable or general administrative discharge or are a member of the Armed Forces of the United States and the Rhode Island National Guard.
Housing Assistance (Sen. Juan M. Pichardo/ Rep. Malik): This legislation is central to the Senate’s goal of ending homelessness among veterans in 2015. This law gives veterans priority for housing rental subsidies and housing retention assistance under the Rhode Island Housing Resource Act. This Senate priority is a big step in securing housing of all veterans.
Educational Assistance (Sen. Maryellen Goodwin/ Rep. Marvin L. Abney): This new law allows qualifying veterans and their spouses and children under 25 years old to pay resident tuition and fees at state colleges upon filing a letter of intent to reside in the state.  Making this change helps to eliminate one educational roadblock that might stand in the way for service members and their families, who have to relocate frequently.
Easier Access to Veterans’ Discounts (Sen. Felag/Rep. Raymond A. Hull): This legislation requires retail establishments within Rhode Island that offer a veterans’ preference or discount to honor the Rhode Island operator’s license designation as proof of military service. Sometimes, receiving these well-deserved discounts can be cumbersome without the proper credentials. This law makes it easier for veterans to participate in these programs by using their veterans’ designation on their Rhode Island driver’s licenses.
Enhanced Veterans Home Allowance (Sen. Pichardo/ Rep. Samuel A. Azzinaro):  An additional piece of legislation increases the permissible funeral expense allowance for a veteran who dies at the Veterans Home from $5,000 to $10,000. Funeral expenses have risen dramatically, and this revised allowance helps to lessen the financial burden for a deceased veteran’s family.
Continued Recognition of Purple Heart Service for Awardees’ Families (Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski/ Rep. Kathleen A. Fogarty): This legislation entitles a surviving relative to receive the Purple Heart license plate for keepsake only upon the death of the Purple Heart recipient. A Purple Heart recipient’s surviving family members can now carry on their dearly departed’s legacy so their valiant sacrifices may not be forgotten.
We – as a government, as a state, as a people – owe an extraordinary debt to those who have served in our nation’s military and defended the freedom and rights we all enjoy. On behalf of the Senate Committee on Special Legislation and Veterans’ Affairs, and all Rhode Islanders, I want to express our sincere appreciation for the service of all veterans who have served our state and nation with courage, dedication and honor. We believe the new legislation is one way to show our appreciation. Please contact me at ([email protected]) with any new ideas for veteran legislation.
Walter S. Felag, Jr. is the Democratic State Senator from District 10, Warren, Bristol, Tiverton. He is the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Special Legislation and Veterans’ Affairs. He was selected as Rhode Island Legislator of the Year by the RI Disabled American Veterans.


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