AUGUSTA – Governor Paul R. LePage signed LD 1612 into law today, which combines several legislative proposals to improve the delivery of services and benefits to Maine veterans and provide tuition assistance to members of the Maine National Guard.
Governor LePage held a signing ceremony in the Cabinet Room with members from the Department of Defense, Veterans and Emergency Management. He and First Lady Ann LePage have been staunch supporters of Maine veterans.
“I am proud to sign this bill into law,” said Governor LePage. “Our veterans give so much to our state and nation and ask for so little in return. The experience they gain in military service brings valuable skills and talented employees to our workforce. It is only right that we should give back to them, provide the services they deserve.”
This new law establishes the Maine National Guard Postsecondary Fund to provide for a 100% tuition waiver at any state postsecondary education institution for qualified members of the Maine National Guard. Maine had been the only New England State that did not offer free in-state tuition to its National Guard members. Some Maine residents had joined the Guard in New Hampshire or other states to get the education benefit.
This law now puts Maine on par with other states and will allow recruiters to keep more qualified young people in Maine. Governor LePage first proposed funding for this program in his change package for the 2016-2017 biennial budget, but that funding was not adopted by the Appropriations Committee.
“The Maine National Guard is second to none, and this tuition program reaffirms that,” said Governor LePage. “By providing our soldiers and airmen with the opportunity for a high-quality, low-cost education in Maine, we are honoring their service and investing in the future of Maine.”
The bill also implements several recommendations of the Commission to Strengthen and Align the Services Provided to Maine’s Veterans, providing additional resources to the Bureau of Veterans’ Services. Among those new resources the addition of several Veteran Services Officer positions, which will be deployed throughout the state to help veterans understand their benefits and ensure they receive the care they need. Funding is also provided to allow the Bureau of Veterans Services to conduct marketing and outreach in order to identify veterans in Maine and raise awareness of the benefits they qualify for.
Addressing homelessness among veterans is also a priority of this new law, placing the Director of the Bureau of Veterans’ Services on the Statewide Homeless Council and charging that Council to develop strategies to reduce and eventually eliminate homelessness among veterans.
Other provisions of the bill provide a sales tax exemption to all federally chartered veterans’ service organizations, beginning August 1, 2016, and direct the University of Maine System and Maine Community College System to identify services available to its student veterans.
“This is a tremendous day for the Maine National Guard,” said Brig. Gen. Doug A. Farnham, the Adjutant General for the Maine National Guard. “The tuition bill will go a long way toward recruiting and retaining our Maine National Guard force and keep our talented men and women here in Maine where they belong. We are also grateful for the additional resources that will allow the Bureau of Veterans Services to better serve all Maine veterans.”
For more information about the National Guard and veterans’ services, please go to maine.gov/veterans.