Baker Signs DiZoglio Veterans Legislation into Law

Veterans legislation recently signed into law by Governor Charlie Baker includes provisions, sponsored by State Representative Diana DiZoglio (D-Methuen), to exempt active duty military from the Commonwealth’s motor vehicle excise tax and find ways to improve transition services for returning vets.

Under House Bill 4285, “The HOME Act,” active duty members of the military will now be exempt from the Commonwealth’s motor vehicle excise tax while serving. The excise tax will not apply to Massachusetts residents in active and full-time military service who have been deployed or stationed outside of the Commonwealth for a period of at least 180 days.

This measure was inspired by a conversation DiZoglio had last year with a Methuen constituent, Diane Amato. Last August, Amato and her daughter Alfina, as well as Methuen City Councilor Thomas Ciulla, contacted DiZoglio regarding an issue the Amatos were facing with excise taxes. Despite the fact that Alfina was serving overseas in Afghanistan and unable to use a vehicle stateside, she was being charged with a motor vehicle excise tax.

“It can take years to pass a piece of legislation,” said DiZoglio. “I am very grateful to have been able to earn the support on the bills that I filed that were recently passed unanimously by both Democrats and Republicans. I am thankful to local advocates such as Methuen City Councilor Tom Ciulla and Diane Amato of Methuen for their passion and dedication to working together with my colleagues and I to see this through to the end.”

The legislation also creates a commission to look into ways to improve transition services for returning veterans and reduce the rate of suicide and effects of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety. The commission will investigate and study veterans’ reintegration into civilian life and issues related to isolation and suicide.

This measure was earlier endorsed by the Gold Star Wives of America, VFW Post 8772 and Veterans Northeast Outreach Center (VNOC), located in Haverhill.

According to Pentagon data, war was the leading cause of death in the military nearly every year between 2004 and 2011 until suicide became the top cause of troop deaths in 2012 and 2013. A recent national study by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs found deployed veterans have a 41 percent higher suicide risk compared to the general U.S. population, while non-deployed veterans have a 61 percent high suicide risk. Among veterans who died serving during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars between 2001-2007, roughly a fifth were suicides.

“Currently, the rate of suicide among our returning veterans is higher than that of those killed in the line of duty,” said DiZoglio. “This is simply unacceptable. I filed this legislation to ensure additional mental health services would be provided to the men and women who risk their lives to protect us. This bill will assist in their transition back into our communities. I am grateful to Governor Baker for signing this legislation as an example of his commitment to veterans in the Commonwealth.”

Lawrence RMV to Stay Put

The Lawrence RMV branch, once proposed to be moved to a new location in Downtown Lawrence, will remain in its current location on Route 114 in South Lawrence.

A lease has not only been signed to keep the RMV branch in South Lawrence, but also expand and update the location, going from 10,500 to 13,330 square feet and incorporating new physical and technological enhancements. Improvements are expected to be finished by early next year.

The news comes on the heels of years of contentious debate on whether to move the RMV to a new location in Downtown Lawrence. In July 2014, state and local officials, without input from the public or state legislators, announced a plan to relocate the branch from its current location on Route 114 to Downtown Lawrence.

Leading the opposition to the move was State Representative Diana DiZoglio (D-Methuen), who represents South Lawrence in the legislature and met with the then-RMV Registrar to advocate for staying in its current location. Five thousand Merrimack Valley residents had signed a petition to keep the Registry in South Lawrence.

“During my time as State Representative, countless residents from across my district have contacted me to express their concerns about the proposed move of the Lawrence RMV,” said DiZoglio. “It was my responsibility to speak up on behalf of my constituents who did not have a seat at the table in the closed-doors discussions on the proposal.”

Opponents had expressed concerns about the economic impact on businesses along Route 114 that would result from a relocation of the RMV branch, as well as regarding the perceived lack of convenience and parking at a new Downtown Lawrence location. DiZoglio requested a public hearing be held on the proposed relocation but this was denied by the RMV, citing lack of precedence for holding such a forum.

“I am thrilled that the RMV will remain in its current location, where it has been so critical to the economic vitality of nearby businesses,” said DiZoglio. “This location is easily accessible for residents across the Merrimack Valley and affords substantial parking. I look forward to seeing firsthand the improvements at the branch, which will help to make visiting the Lawrence RMV a speedier and more pleasant experience for customers. This has been a long, uphill battle. Since I have been working on the issue, there have been three different Registrars of Motor Vehicles. I am very thankful to the current Registrar and the Baker administration for not only hearing the concerns of the people I represent on this issue but also acting on it.”