Friday, May 29, 2009

Texas House votes to give disabled veterans exemptions on property taxes

From the El Paso Times:

AUSTIN -- Nearly two years after voters approved a tax cut for disabled veterans, members of the Texas House on May 27 approved a bill that would give those injured while serving their country exemptions from property taxes.

"This is about people who have really earned it, and the people have already told us to do this," said state Rep. Ismael "Kino" Flores, D-Palmview.

In 2007, more than 86 percent of Texas voters said "yes" to a constitutional amendment giving veterans with a 100 percent disability a complete exemption from property taxes. The bill lawmakers approved Wednesday would implement that exemption, and allow other disabled veterans deductions on their property taxes based on their military disability ranking.

The bill passed with a vote of 145-0 and will next move to Gov. Rick Perry's desk for approval.

"This would probably make things quite a bit easier for disabled veterans," said Ted Monette, service officer and a commander for the El Paso chapter of Disabled American Veterans.

The measure would apply to 600,000 disabled Texas veterans, saving them about $11 million a year in property taxes. It nearly fell victim to a partisan standoff in the House over a bill that would require photo identification from voters.

As Democrats continued a five-day filibuster to prevent a bill requiring voters to present photo identification from coming to the floor, the stalling also threatened to derail the veterans' tax exemption.

Flores repeatedly requested permission to bring up the measure out of order. Republicans, though, had vowed not to allow any other substantive measures to be considered out of order as the Democrats continued to stall the GOP's hallmark issue of the legislative session.

Flores, himself a veteran and desperate to pass the bill he said he worked on for six years, said he attempted to attach it to another measure that had already passed the House and was headed for approval in the Senate.

He said he worked with Republican Sens. Tommy Williams of The Woodlands and John Carona of Dallas, two lawmakers from urban areas who could not be more different from Flores, a representative of the Rio Grande Valley.

"Who would have thought Kino and Carona make good tortillas?" Flores said.

But the two, along with state Rep. John Otto, R-Dayton, agreed to add the veterans' tax break to a separate bill that deals with how property taxes are calculated, and the measure passed on Wednesday.

State Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, who had proposed a similar measure, said the bill was important for El Paso veterans.

"For El Paso and the historic ties between Fort Bliss and our community, we thrive when our veterans thrive," Moody said. "That bill would be a small token of appreciation for their sacrifices."