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Constitutional Amendments advance

The House Privileges and Elections Committee considered several Constitutional amendments on Friday, February 1, reporting three measures to the House floor.  Several amendments of interest to local governments have also been passed by the Senate and await consideration in the House.

HJ 591 (Cole), a measure VACo supports, would allow the General Assembly to make technical adjustments to legislative district boundaries following decennial redistricting so as to enable district boundaries to coincide with precinct lines.  The resolution is intended to address the problem of precincts that are split in the course of the legislature’s redrawing of Congressional, House of Delegates, and state Senate districts.

HJ 615 (Cole) would set out a process for the appointment of a Virginia Independent Redistricting Commission, outline criteria for the composition of legislative districts, and provide for the submission of a redistricting plan to the legislature.  Under the resolution, if the General Assembly rejected a proposed redistricting plan, the Commission would submit a new plan; if this plan were also rejected, the Supreme Court of Virginia would establish the districts.  Of note, HJ 615 would also require local governing bodies that are elected from districts to establish a local independent redistricting commission after each decennial Census.  Four commissioners would be appointed, with parity between the parties with highest and next-highest numbers of votes in the most recent gubernatorial election.  The commission would submit one or more proposed plans to the governing body, where the plan or plans would be introduced as an ordinance.  The Senate’s version of redistricting reform, SJ 306 (Barker), has passed the Senate and is before the House Privileges and Elections Committee.  SJ 306 also sets up a process for the appointment of a redistricting commission to develop plans for redrawing Congressional and state legislative districts, submission of redistricting plans to the legislature, and General Assembly action on the plans, but does not address local districts.

HJ 676 (Filler-Corn), as introduced, would have mandated an exemption from personal property taxes for one motor vehicle of a veteran with a 100 percent service-connected, permanent and total disability.  VACo objected to the extension of the current mandatory tax exemption for real property to an additional type of property, pointing out that two existing mandatory real property tax exemptions (for disabled veterans and their surviving spouses and the surviving spouses of servicemembers killed in action) represented a $50 million revenue loss to localities in 2018, according to information compiled by the Commissioners of the Revenue.  Localities currently may tax motor vehicles of veterans with certain disabilities at a reduced rate or provide an exemption, but the eligibility criteria differ from the language of the resolution, which would more closely mirror the criteria for the real property tax exemption.  The subcommittee hearing the resolution reported a substitute version that would instead allow the exemption to be provided at local option, and the full committee advanced this version to the floor.  SJ 278 (Reeves), as passed by the Senate, remains in its original version, which would mandate the tax exemption.

A related proposal, HJ 657 (Pogge), would have expanded eligibility for the mandatory real property tax exemption for disabled veterans and their surviving spouses to the surviving spouses of veterans who died before 2011, when the exemption was initially established.  VACo raised similar concerns during the resolution’s hearing about the expansion of a mandatory tax exemption to more qualifying individuals; the subcommittee recommended a substitute that would have taken a broad approach to the issue by reverting the entire existing exemption for disabled veterans to a local option.  The patron requested that the resolution be stricken in full committee, so it will not move forward this year.

VACo Contact: Katie Boyle

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