Assembly OKs amendment to help surviving spouses of disabled vets

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A constitutional amendment to expand a tax exemption for surviving spouses of disabled veterans has passed unanimously in the House and Senate.

The amendment cleared the Senate on Friday after winning approval from the House on Feb. 6. It now goes to Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who will have until late March to act on the measure.

Currently, surviving spouses of disabled veterans get an exemption on the property taxes for the house in which they and their partner lived. Under HJ 562, the amendment proposed by Del. Jason Miyares, R-Virginia Beach, spouses would continue to get the exemption if they move to another home.

Assuming McAuliffe approves the constitutional amendment, it still has a long way to go. By law, it must be approved again by the 2018 General Assembly and then by voters in a statewide election in November 2018.

Moreover, if voters adopt the constitutional amendment, the General Assembly must craft legislation for implementing it, noted Del. Jackson Miller, R-Manassas. He is vice chairman of the House Privileges and Elections Committee, which held a hearing on HJ 562 on Feb. 3.

During the committee meeting, Miller said the enabling bill could address a concern he has about the tax exemption.

“In the corresponding legislation, could it be written that a spouse of a deceased member of our military couldn’t purchase a far more expensive home in the commonwealth of Virginia? Could the legislation say that the tax value of the home would have to be equal to or lesser than the current home?” Miller said.

“The testimony we kept hearing is people wanted to scale down because they lost a spouse. And when they scale down, they would lose their ability based on the home they are in when their spouse was killed. The concern I have is, someone that would perhaps scale up from a $200,000 house to a million-dollar house and now not paying property taxes.”

The committee voted unanimously – 21-0 – in favor of the amendment. So did the full House (97-0) and Senate (39-0).