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ALBANY- State lawmakers Tuesday pushed the Legislature to pass a bill that would give state contract preference to service-disabled veterans who own businesses.

The bill, NY Jobs for Heroes Program, would help disabled veterans receive state contracts to open small businesses. The bill would aim to reward at least 5 percent of state contracting and subcontracting of businesses owned by service-disabled veterans, said Sen. Greg Ball, R-Patterson, Putnam County.

"We do not do enough, either as a state or as a nation, in transitioning those men and women back into the workplace. This is the most importance piece of legislation that this Senate and this Legislature will pass and this governor can sign," Ball said at a Capitol press conference, "to actually make sure that we employ veterans in the state of New York, not only as truck drivers, not selling trinkets at the local carnival, but meaningful employment."

The bill was created to mirror a current federal program, and 44 other states already have programs creating state contract preferences for disabled veterans, Ball said.

Ball, who sponsors the bills and chairs the Senate Veterans Committee, has bi-partisan support for the legislation, which didn't pass the Assembly last year. Veterans joined Ball at the news conference, and he's holding a hearing next month at the Capitol on the bill.

"I think we are in the right direction at this point. We've been working on this for a while already, and I am very optimistic that something will come out of everything we've been working for," said Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, D-Brooklyn, who sponsored the bill in the state Assembly.

The measure received a major boost last week. In his State of the State address, Gov. Andrew Cuomo voiced support for the program.

"Disabled veterans showed us their loyalty; we must show them our loyalty. Let's set a goal of 5 percent in the awarding of state contracts to disabled, veterans-owned small businesses," Cuomo said during his speech.

Lawmakers were pleased with Cuomo's support.

"In New York, unfortunately, our veterans are suffering from an unemployment rate that is double that of their civilian counterparts and we've said, 'Enough is enough'. We've got to step up, set a new standard, and make sure the last place our veterans are going when they come home from Afghanistan is an unemployment line," said state Sen. David Carlucci, D-New City, Rockland County.

AHUPFL@Gannett.com

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