ALBANY, NY- Senator Greg Ball (R, C, 40th District –Westchester/Putnam/Dutchess), Chairman of the Veterans, Homeland Security and Military Affairs Committee, unveiled his local “Hudson Valley Patriot Guard” bill today to protect the memories of our fallen soldiers. Chairman Ball is spearheading an effort in the Hudson Valley to ban protests at the funeral services of active duty military personnel. Senator Ball is working with local leaders and various county legislators in Westchester, Putnam, Dutchess, Rockland and Orange Counties to put in place regulations that will ensure members of the military and their families are protected from groups who in recent years have used military funerals as a platform to gain attention for themselves and their agendas.
“Freedom of speech is one thing, disgusting disregard for the honor and dignity of the fallen is an entirely different story. We have legislation and regulations, that pass constitutional muster, on the books already for public safety at parades and demonstrations, this is no different. I am personally spearheading this local effort with our friends within the local county legislatures and am committed to creating an ‘Honor Zone’ in the Hudson Valley, where the memories and service of our military members will always be honored and saluted.”
“The Specialist Thomas Wilwerth Military Dignity Act,” a bill co-sponsored and spearheaded by Chairman Ball, passed the full Senate by a vote of 59 to 3, on March 15th. This act prohibits protests within 2,500 feet of military services, funerals, and processions of deceased service members unless the protest organizers post a bond to the local municipality to defray the increased security costs associated with demonstrations that occur closer to these funeral activities. In no case would protesters be permitted within 500 feet. The protestors will also have to apply for a permit with the New York Division of Military and Naval Affairs.
Senator Ball and many of his colleagues felt the bill was a fitting response to the Supreme Court’s 8-1 “Westboro” decision on March 2, 2011 which stated that protests at military funerals were protected by the first amendment. The case involved a lawsuit brought against the Westboro Baptist Church by the father of Maryland resident Matthew Snyder. Snyder was killed while serving in Iraq.
Senator Ball has called for his colleagues in the Assembly to take action on the bill, yet is now working hard at home to ensure that military families will be protected, by working with members of the county legislature to enact rules and regulations regarding funeral protests on a county level.
The “Specialist Thomas Wilwerth Military Dignity Act”, was part of Senator Ball’s Veterans Hill Day Legislative package. The Senator, wanting to hear directly from the veterans community, hosted a public hearing on March 14th where he and his colleagues were joined by veterans to discuss recurring needs within the veterans community, key pieces of veterans legislation, as well as devastating impacts of the executive’s proposed budget, on vital veterans services.
Hearing the concerns of the veteran community Senator Ball was able to secure a staggering $11.5 million for New York State Veterans during the budget battle. Ball successfully restored $10.9 Million to Veterans’ Homes located in Montrose, New York City, Oxford, Stony Brook and Batavia, all of which had been previously cut.
Senator Ball stated, “This was a budget of unmet needs, not wants. Yet the cuts to our veterans, if enacted, would have been debilitating. Being fiscally prudent doesn’t necessitate being heartless. As Chairman of Homeland Security, Veterans and Military Affairs, I am proud to have fought in a pretty tough financial arena, and come out with solid gains and restorations for our veterans.”
Senator Ball also secured $500,000 for the establishment of a State Veterans’ Cemetery pursuant to a project approved by the United States Department of Veterans’ Affairs. As well as $125,000 to help the New York Veterans of Foreign Wars eliminate the backlog of claims inhibiting disabled Veterans from getting their benefits in a timely manner, an issue brought up as a top priority at Senator Ball’s Veteran’s hearing.