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Bills to reduce property tax for seniors, military widows take first step

The multi-step process of providing property tax relief for poor senior citizens and widowed spouses of military veterans kicked off Tuesday in the Florida Legislature, when two proposals passed their first House Committee. 

The House Finance and Tax Committee voted unanimously to pass two joint resolutions for new constitutional amendments that could benefit the two groups. 

HJR 55 would allow counties and cities to cap property tax rate increases for senior citizens. The proposal would save low-income seniors—those who make less than about $26,000—from the Recapture Rule, which allows taxes to sometimes increase when property values decline. 

The joint resolution is sponsored by Rep. Jeannette Nuñez, R-Miami. 

It passed through the Committee unanimously, and moves next to the Community & Military Affairs Subcommittee. In order to become law, it must receive a positive vote from 60 percent of both Houses and be approved by the electorate. Then, a city or a county would have to choose to adopt the amendment. 

HJR 93 seeks a Constitutional amendment that would allow the Legislature to reduce or eliminate property taxes for surviving spouses of military veterans or first responders—police, firefighters, etc.—who are killed in the line of duty. 

The bill, sponsored by Shawn Harrison, R-Tampa, also passed unanimously, with representatives of the police and firefighters unions speaking in support. It would also have to receive a three-fifths majority vote in both Houses and be approved by the voters in November. If passed, the property tax reduction will begin in 2013.

Cindy Roberts, whose husband, Cpl. Michael Roberts, was a Tampa police officer killed in the line of duty in 2009, asked legislators to pass the bill.

"My husband was a peacekeeper, and he was a first responder," she said.

All lawmakers on the panel who spoke supported the measure.

“We don’t need their tax money,” said Rep. Larry Ahern, R-St. Petersburg. “They gave us their spouse, and I think that’s enough.”