Bill in Texas Legislature would exempt veterans' surviving spouses, children from property taxes

Post date: Mar 9, 2011 3:44:17 PM

Star Telegram Posted Sunday, Jan. 23, 2011

A group of Texas senators has filed a bill that would extend full property tax exemptions to the surviving spouses or children of 100 percent disabled veterans, which they said was only fair given the sacrifices of those who care for the nation's veterans.

Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, a member of the Veteran Affairs & Military Installations Committee, said the bill mirrors many of the federal policies that extend benefits to surviving spouses.

"In many cases, our nation's heroes have suffered physical and psychological wounds that are often a shared sacrifice by these veterans' spouses," Davis said in a statement. "It is absolutely the right thing to do to extend this benefit to the surviving spouse of a military veteran, given the limited fixed incomes of the veterans' surviving spouses."

The bill has already gained several bipartisan sponsors but to become law would have to go before voters as a constitutional amendment.

It would apply only to the homestead property and would not extend to spouses who remarried.

Two years ago, the Legislature passed legislation, later approved by voters, that established a full property tax exemption for fully disabled veterans and those ruled unemployable by the Veterans Affairs Department.

The maximum exemption for disabled veterans had been $12,000.

Teresa Johniken, adjutant for the Disabled American Veterans in Texas, said granting the exemption for veterans "was a wonderful thing the state of Texas did." But spouses deserve the same consideration, she said, particularly because spousal benefits are reduced by more than half when a veteran dies.

"I know many disabled veterans who are almost indigent," she said. "In our case, my husband's income would be cut in half, and giving him this exemption could be the difference in him keeping our home. It's extremely important."

Jeffery Law, chief appraiser of the Tarrant Appraisal District, said 1,382 veterans received the full exemption in Tarrant County in 2010, removing almost $181 million in taxable value off the rolls. But that is less than a quarter of 1 percent of the county's total taxable value, he said.

Statewide, the potential impact is unknown because the Legislature has not done a study to see how local governments would be affected.

"If the law extends to the surviving spouses, most likely it would be an even smaller group," Law said. "As diverse as Tarrant County is, it shouldn't have much of a financial impact."