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Florida House panel passes military housing bill

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A bill that would give a property tax exemption to on-base military housing passed a state House committee Friday, adding an amendment that would stop prisoners from receiving homestead exemption.

State Rep. Jimmy Patronis, R-Panama City, is sponsoring the legislation (HB531) and couches it as a “cleanup” bill, fixing a problem that allows base housing on U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) property to be charged ad valorem taxes. Right now, privately owned housing on DoD property can be charged ad valorem taxes.

A few years ago the DoD entered into a public-private partnership to build on-base housing. Under the agreement, a private company builds the houses or apartments and leases them to the DoD, Patronis told the Finance and Tax Subcommittee. It’s an “innovative approach,” which allows DoD to make a smaller lease payment to the private company, rather than making a big investment itself to build the housing, he said.

But some property appraisers across the state saw these improvements as taxable and started charging. In one instance in Monroe County, a lawsuit was filed over the charges and has not been resolved.

Patronis’ bill would adopt a uniform housing code, which passed through Congress in the mid-’90s and exempts these property improvements from ad valorem taxes. The bill would take effect upon becoming law and could be retroactively applied to Jan. 1, 2007.

“The message that we will actually send to the federal government, because of this language, is that Florida is being as proactive as possible to make the cost of doing business — especially for housing for our sailors, airmen and soldiers — as affordable as possible,” Patronis said.

On its face, the committee roundly supported the bill but took issue with an amendment that would prevent prisoners from receiving homestead exemption. Thus, it only passed 13-3.

 Rep. Ritch Workman, R-Melbourne and committee chair, proffered the amendment, saying it was directed at a Brevard County man who was serving a 30-year sentence but receiving homestead exemption on a vacant piece of property he owns. He said he was alerted to the issue by his property appraiser.

“I think his homestead is in the slammer, not in a Brevard County property,” Workman said.

Others argued the amendment wasn’t directly related to Patronis’ bill and too harsh for those who only serve a few years in prison.

Rep. Jim Waldman was chief among the opposition but was calmed by Patronis’ assurances he would work to satisfy the Coconut Creek Democrat’s concerns. Patronis said the bill comes before his Economic Affairs Committee next, so it shouldn’t be a problem to take care of Waldman’s issues in a satisfactory manner.

In an interview, Patronis said he supports removing homestead exemption from prisoners’ property and feels it isn’t “unreasonable policy.”

On the Senate side, companion legislation (SB354) has passed unanimously through two committees and has two more to go. The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Finance and Tax will hear the bill Wednesday.
 

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