Last December Col. Van T. Barfoot, one of the country’s last-surviving Medal of Honor winners, was under the gun from his Henrico County community’s homeowner association. In a five-paragraph letter, Barfoot was ordered to remove the “illegal” flagpole from his yard where he raised the U.S. flag every day. The incident garnered massive national attention and put the plight of the decorated veteran in the spotlight. Virginia Senator Jim Webb stepped in to try to diffuse the situation and the flagpole was allowed to remain.
Now current Governor, Bob McDonnell has signed a package of legislation aimed at making Virginia the most veteran friendly state in America. One particular bill (HB956 / SB151) is aimed squarely at the incident with Col. Barfoot and addresses veterans freedom to fly the U.S. flag. In comments during the ceremonial signing of the Bills the Governor said, “The American flag is a symbol of our freedom and democracy. There is bipartisan consensus to protect a Virginian’s right to fly the American flag on his/her property.”
In all the Governor signed 27 pieces of legislation ranging from fishing licenses to disability claims and employment benefits. These Bills are designed to recognize the needs of veterans and to send a message that the Commonwealth appreciates the service and sacrifice so many have made. McDonnell summarized the actions by saying, “All of the legislation recognized today will take us a step further and ensure our veterans are receiving our gratitude and thanks when they return home. The overwhelming bipartisan support of our veterans strikes the right tone that I look to build upon. I look forward to working with our veterans and their families during my administration so we can make Virginia the best state in America for veterans.”
The full list of Bills can be seen below.
Veterans Bills Signed by Governor McDonnell:
Burial vaults at state-operated veterans cemeteries (HB479)
- Provides burial vaults at cost to eligible veterans and their family members interred at state-operated veterans cemeteries, based on available funding at the Department of Veterans Services.
Free fishing licenses to disabled, active duty military personnel (HB128)
- Authorizes the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries to issue free fishing licenses to disabled, active duty military personnel who are receiving inpatient or outpatient medical treatment from a veterans or military hospital in Virginia, an adjoining state, or the District of Columbia.
Fishing license; exempts active duty military personnel who are residents (SB243)
- Exempts active duty military personnel who are residents and on leave from having to obtain a basic fishing license so long as they can show proof that they are on leave.
- Provides that a unit owners’ or property owner’s association shall not prohibit or otherwise adopt or enforce any policy restricting a unit or lot owner from displaying upon property to which that owner has a separate ownership interest or a right to exclusive possession or use the flag of the United States whenever such display is in compliance with the federal Flag Code. The bill also provides that the unit owners’ or property owners’ association may establish reasonable restrictions as to the size, place, duration, and manner of placement or display of the flag provided the restrictions are necessary to protect a substantial interest of the unit owners’ or property owners’ association. Under the bill in an action brought to enforce a rule pertaining to display of the flag, the unit owners’ or property owners’ association has the burden of proof regarding whether the rule protects a substantial interest of the association.
Adds Global War on Terrorism, etc., to wars that are honored (HB1226)
- Adds the Global War on Terror, Operation Enduring Freedom, and Operation Iraqi Freedom to the wars that are recognized on Veterans Day and Memorial Day. The bill also adds the Global War on Terror and Operation Enduring Freedom to the wars or conflicts for which a locality may issue permits for the erection of monuments or memorials.
Absentee ballots; procedure for various deadlines and ballot requirements (SB55 / HB1235)
- Requires that ballots be prepared and available for absentee voting not later than 45 days before any election rather than 45 days before the November election and 30 days before other elections. The bill also requires preparation of ballots 45 days in advance of special elections for federal office and allows, if necessary, preparation as soon after that deadline as possible for other special elections. Various deadlines for nominations and filings are adjusted in response to the ballot preparation change.
Reemployment rights of members Virginia National Guard, State Defense Force, or naval militia (SB349)
- Extends the period in which a member of the Virginia National Guard, Virginia State Defense Force, or naval militia is required to apply for reinstatement in his former job to 90 days following his release from duty or from hospitalization following release, if the length of the member’s absence by reason of service in the uniformed services exceeds 180 days. If the duration of his absence does not exceed 180 days, such notice must be given within 14 days, which is the current period allowed in all instances regardless of the duration of the absence. This notice period is consistent with that provided under the federal Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act for service members deployed for 181 days or longer.
- Allows a member of the Virginia National Guard called to state active duty by the Governor to continue his health care coverage, life insurance and long-term care insurance, at the member’s expense.
- Allows any active duty military member in uniform to use HOV lanes, regardless of the number of passengers, on Interstate Route 264 and Interstate Route 64 for the purposes of traveling to or from a military facility in the Hampton Roads Planning District.
Exemption of handling fee for veterans opening small business (HB 262/SB 455)
(Sherwood/Greason & Hurt/Stosch)
- Exempts veterans from paying the Department of Business Assistance’s handling fee when establishing a small business through the one-stop small business permitting program.
Honor and Remember Flag; State’s emblem of service and sacrifice by members of U.S. Armed Forces (HJ137)
(Cosgrove, Sherwood, Hurt)
- Designates the Honor and Remember Flag as the Commonwealth’s emblem of service and sacrifice by the brave men and women of the United States Armed Forces who have given their lives in the line of duty.
- Provides for a referendum at the November 2, 2010, election to approve or reject an amendment requiring the General Assembly to provide a real property tax exemption for the principal residence of a veteran, or his or her surviving spouse, if the veteran has a 100 percent service-connected, permanent, and total disability.
Veterans Bill of Rights (HB 1337)
- Requires the Commissioner, in conjunction with the Board of Veterans Services, to establish and implement a compact with Virginia’s veterans, which shall have a goal of making Virginia America’s most veteran-friendly state. The bill specifies the provisions to be contained in the compact, and requires the Commissioner to include the status and progress of the compact in his annual report.
Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children (SB 299)
- Requires the Department of Education to employ a military family education liaison to provide staff support for the Virginia Council on the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children and to assist military families and the state in facilitating the implementation of the Interstate Compact .
Electronic processing of disability claims (HB 419)
- Requires the Department of Veterans Services to replace its existing case management technology, which replacement is required to support highly sophisticated electronic claims preparation.
Eliminates requirement that Wounded Warrior Program cover only combat injuries (HB 174)
- Eliminates the requirement that the Wounded Warrior Program cover only injuries sustained by military service personnel in combat areas.
- Allows individuals who receive payments from the Virginia Military Family Relief Fund to subtract them from their federal adjustable gross income when calculating their Virginia taxable income, for taxable years beginning on and after January 1, 2010.
Veterans Skills Database (HB 760)
- Requires the Virginia Employment Commission, in cooperation with the Department of Veterans Services and the Secretary of Commerce and Trade, to establish the Veterans Skills Database, an Internet-accessible database of veterans and their workforce skills, for the purpose of marketing and promoting the workforce skills of veterans to potential employers. The database will be free to both veterans and employers.
Burial power of attorney (HB 382)
- Provides that when a person dies while on active military duty and has designated an individual to make arrangements for his funeral and disposition of his remains on a U.S. Department of Defense Record of Emergency Data, the designee shall be responsible for making such arrangements.
Veterans Services Fund (SB 297)
- Provides that moneys in the Veterans Services Fund shall be administered by the Veterans Services Foundation to provide funding for veterans services and programs in the Commonwealth.
- May be used for Veterans Services Foundation, with approval of Board