Currently, 100-percent disabled veterans in Oklahoma are provided with an ad valorem tax exemption for their primary residence as long as they lived there on Jan. 1st and apply for the exemption by March 15th. Last week, the Senate approved legislation ensuring disabled veterans continue to get the exemption if they move mid-year as well as extending the tax break to the surviving spouses of veterans killed in the line of duty.
House Bill 2621, by Sen. Josh Brecheen and Rep. Mike Reynolds, will put before the vote of the people two proposed Constitutional amendments. The first would make it easier for 100- percent disabled veterans who move mid-year to maintain their property tax exemption. Currently, a veteran who moves during a year an exemption is in place has to wait until the next January to renew the exemption essentially missing out on the tax break for the time period between when he or she moved and January 1st.
The second amendment would provide the same property tax exemption given to 100-percent disabled veterans to the surviving spouses of veterans killed in the line of duty as determined by the military.
“Our veterans and their spouses have sacrificed dearly to serve our blessed nation. Providing these brave heroes and the surviving spouses of those killed in the line of duty with an ad valorem tax break is the honorable thing to do,” said Brecheen, R-Coalgate.
The bill will now return back to the House for consideration of Senate amendments. If the amendments are approved, the two state questions will be placed on the 2014 November ballot for Oklahoma voters to consider.
“The Legislature deals with thousands of issues every year and oversights happen but I’m hoping we can get these two constitutional amendments on the November ballot and provide our disabled veterans and surviving spouses with this tax incentive,” said Rep. Reynolds, R-Oklahoma City. “I want to thank Jennifer Hunt for her courage in the face of this horrible tragedy that claimed her husband’s life and that of twelve other individuals and her strength and dedication to providing for her family since. I also want to thank the Cleveland County Treasurer’s office for bringing this issue to my attention and to Senator Brecheen for his help in working to protect our veterans and their families.”
Former state Senator and current Cleveland County Treasurer Jim Reynolds discovered that the spouses of veterans killed in the line of duty had been overlooked when the property tax exemption for 100% disabled veterans was originally created. It came to his attention when Jennifer Hunt’s case came across his desk. Hunt, the widow of Specialist Jason Hunt who was killed in the 2009 Ft. Hood shootings, mistakenly had been told by friends and veterans from other states that she no longer needed to pay her property taxes after her husband’s death and so ignored the tax notices she received thinking they were a mistake.
“When Jennifer’s case was brought to my attention, she was three years delinquent on her property tax bill, owed the county thousands in back taxes and was close to losing her home and she didn’t realize it. When I heard her story, however, I knew that the state legislature had overlooked extending the ad valorem tax exemption to widows like her, which was heartbreaking,” said the Treasurer. “I’m pleased to see that this oversight is being addressed and that the people of Oklahoma will get to vote on this important issue. As a state, we must always do all we can to look out for the wellbeing of all of our veterans but especially those who are disabled as well as the families of those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country.”
Even if voters approve the two Constitutional amendments, they will not be retroactive back to 2009 but will only be applicable for tax years beginning with 2014 so Hunt must still pay her current property tax bill. However, the Cleveland County Treasurer’s office has been helping Hunt by raising private funds to pay off her ad valorem tax debt. They have raised a portion of the funds but more are needed. If anyone would like to help the Hunt family, please contact Jim Reynolds at (405)366-0217 firstname.lastname@example.org.