Gov. Baker proposes National Guard pay hike and military justice code

Bill would establish highest minimum daily pay in nation for guard members on active state duty

  • Major General Gary Keefe, the adjutant general of the Massachusetts National Guard and a Northampton resident. Gazette File photo

Staff Writer
Published: 12/14/2017 10:40:46 PM

Gov. Charlie Baker wants an increase in the minimum daily pay for members of the Massachusetts National Guard when on active state duty. He also wants to create a military justice code that guarantees members are treated the same, whether serving in a federal or state capacity.

The Baker administration this week filed a bill with the state Legislature to make a series of adjustments to Chapter 33 of the state’s laws, the statute that enables the creation of the Massachusetts National Guard, following extensive consultation with its members.

“Modernizing our laws will better enable the nation’s oldest militia to continue fulfilling its important missions, while ensuring the brave men and women of the guard continue to lead the way with the highest of standards,” Baker said in a statement that coincided with a Statehouse celebration of the National Guard’s 381st birthday on Wednesday.

Lt. Col. Shannon McLaughlin, state judge advocate for the Massachusetts National Guard, said in a phone interview Thursday that she is excited about how the changes will affect the 8,131 members in the state.

“This makes sure our operations are accurately represented by the law,” McLaughlin said.

McClaughlin said Massachusetts is one of a handful of states that doesn’t have its own uniform code governing conduct, meaning members are at risk of having military crimes prosecuted in different ways depending on whether the member is serving in a federal or state capacity.

Based on the American Bar Association’s Model State Code of Military Justice, the proposal will provide consistency and establish a series of military crimes that parallel those found in the federal Uniform Code of Military Justice. It also establishes procedures for the convening and conduct of courts-martial for specific military offenses.

“It gives our commanders ability to instill good order and discipline among the troops,” McLaughlin said.

Should a National Guard member commit a non-military crime, prosecution would still be handled in state court by a district attorney.

Of the more than 8,000 residents who serve, 5,989 are members of the Army and 2,142 are members of the Air. McLaughlin said members are regularly activated, including for weather events that require National Guard presence or incidents in which the State Police require assistance.

The pay adjustments are appreciated by junior members, McLaughlin said. The minimum daily for soldiers and airmen performing state active duty will rise from $100 per day to $200 per day, bringing Massachusetts to the highest minimum in the nation.

While other states also set minimums for junior ranking members, McLaughlin said some states calculate payments based on a federal rate.

The salary floor was set in 2006 and needed to be updated, she said.

“The modernization recognizes the hardship for National Guard service members as they leave their families and their jobs,” McLaughlin said.

This sentiment was echoed by Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito in a statement.

“The National Guard has been there for us when we need them and we should make it easier for them to shoulder the financial burdens of service,” Polito said.

Major General Gary Keefe, the adjutant general of the Massachusetts National Guard and a Northampton resident, said in a statement that the changes are vital and thanked Baker for pushing for the legislation.

“As commander-in-chief of the Massachusetts National Guard, Gov. Baker is a leader in his support for service members, veterans, and their families,” Keefe said. “Establishing a Massachusetts Code of Military Justice provides commanders with the tools required to maintain good order and discipline.”

Another proposed change would modernize and streamline state law to clarify the delegation of authority by Baker, as commander-in-chief, to Keefe, as the adjutant general.

On Thursday, the bill was referred to the Senate’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee.

Scott Merzbach can be  reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.

Editor’s note: This story was changed at 9 a.m. on Dec. 15, 2017, to correct typographical errors.




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