Oppose real property tax bill exempting surviving spouses of armed forces members
VACo opposes HB 1721 (Ramadan), which exempts from taxation the principal property of a surviving spouse of a U.S. Armed Forces member killed in action regardless of the value of the residence.
The bill could be discussed as soon as Tuesday, February 17, by the Senate Finance Committee.
Please email or call members of the Senate Finance Committee TODAY and urge them to oppose HB 1721.
Legislation enacted in the 2014 General Assembly Session provided authorization for legislators to exempt from taxation real property that is the principal residence of a surviving spouse of any U.S. Armed Forces member killed in action. The legislation set out that for an exemption, the principle residence must be less than the average assessed value of all residences in the locality with the same zoning. The constitutional amendment was adopted by voters and became effective January 1, 2015. Localities have since been implementing these program changes.
HB 1721 removes the qualification requirement that the assessed value of the residence must be less than the average assessed value of all dwellings within a locality that are zoned as single family residential.
The bill also provides that the exemption applies without any restriction on the surviving spouse moving to a different principal residence.
Talking points for legislators
- The bill expands an unfunded mandate to localities.
- The statute has only been in effect for six weeks having been adopted on January 1, 2015. No evidence exists yet to suggest that eligible spouses are being denied.
- The bill expands the exemption to principal properties outside of those zoned as single family dwellings. This expanded exemption will significantly increase the cost of the program to local governments.
- The current eligibility formula is based on a Senate Finance Committee compromise proposal. HB 1721 goes against that compromise.
- JLARC noted in a 2013 Fiscal Impact Review that providing a real property tax exemption for surviving spouses would result in a revenue loss of between approximately $1.8 million to $8.6 million for the first full fiscal year it is enacted.
House and Senate Conflicts/Ethics bills advance
The House and Senate have consolidated their numerous conflicts/ethics bills into separate “omnibus” bills, which have passed and sent to the other chamber. HB 2070 (Gilbert) and SB 1424 (Norment) are the vehicles for ethics/conflicts reform this session.
VACo received clear direction from its Ethics Workgroup led by President Penny Gross with input from the Board of Directors to work with legislators on these issues. VACo’s adopted policy supports common sense efforts to strengthen Virginia’s public ethics and conflicts of interest (COI) laws. VACo also supports efforts to make sure current and future changes to these laws are applicable and practical at the local level.
An important goal for VACo is to preserve meaningful local representation on the Conflict of Interests Advisory Council or any other body created to address COI/ethics issues and disclosure procedures. VACo believes that a public official’s job-related travel, paid for by his or her own governmental agency or some other governmental or member organization, should not be considered a gift and therefore should not be required to be reported on the official’s financial disclosure statement.
VACo is working on provisions in the legislation so that local officials who serve on the board of directors of a state or national association of governments are not required to get pre-clearance waivers for attendance at meetings and events when such an association pays for the official’s travel and related expenses to attend such meetings and events.
VACo also has been working on language that would allow local officials to file their semi-annual financial disclosure statements with the clerk of their governing body instead of directly to Richmond.
HB 2070 in its current form is closer to meeting VACo’s objectives but still needs work. SB 1424 as passed the Senate, however, requires centralized filing in Richmond and contains language that would require extensive reporting and waiver requests for local officials to conduct their everyday business.
In discussing these bills with their legislators, local officials should express preference for HB 2070. VACo members, please ask for both bills to include provisions that:
- Allow local officials to continue filing their financial disclosure forms with their local clerks.
- Eliminate requirements for separate reporting of transportation, meals, lodging and related expenses paid by their own or another governmental agency for travel on official business.
- Remove any requirement for officials to get pre-approval waivers for travel expenses paid by an association of governments or government officials, if the official is an officer or director of the association, or is otherwise participating with the association in his official capacity.
Election Mandate Bills Amended to Give Local Flexibility
SB1062 (Obenshain) was amended in a House Privileges and Elections Subcommittee on February 12 to give local flexibility in regards to the number of election ballot scanners required at precincts.
VACo opposed the bill as originally drafted as it would have required localities to provide two scanners for all precincts with more than 4,000 registered voters. Initial reports from VACo members found this unfunded mandate would have had no impact on some counties but as great as a $100,000 impact on others. VACo worked with the patron and committee members to amend the language so that localities can decide in consultation with their General Registrars and local electoral board whether an additional scanner is necessary based on previous voter turnout at the precinct and previous experience with the length of time voters waited to vote.
HB 2062 (Sickles) also passed through the House with this mandate, but Delegate Mark Sickles committed in the committee meeting to support the same line amendment on his bill in the Senate process. SB1061 (Obenshain) was also amended in committee to no longer require, but instead allow, local registrars to receive electronic photo identification information from DMV for use with electronic pollbooks.
VACo Contact: Erik Johnston, CAE
Virtual Schools bill passes House
HB 1361 (Richard Bell) passed the House on a 62-38 vote. It establishes a Virginia Virtual School program that would be overseen by the Board of the Virginia Virtual School. A Virtual School program is defined as a series of online courses with instructional content where the teaching is conducted from a remote location.
VACo opposes this legislation because it would cause localities to receive less in school basic aid payments for each pupil participating in the virtual schools program. Because local school divisions could be responsible for costs associated with participation by students who have not been enrolled in their schools, there could be additional fiscal impacts for localities.
VACo Contact: Larry Land, CAE
Procurement bills advance
HB 1835 (Gilbert) and SB 1371 (Ruff) are omnibus procurement bills that are the result of a two-year joint procurement study. The study included two workgroups composed of various stakeholder representatives including local government. The workgroups were tasked with examining and recommending changes in provisions of the Virginia Public Procurement Act.
VACo supports the bills in general with the exception of the elimination of the use of cooperative procurement for construction and the last minute enactment clauses as detailed below. As passed, the bills eliminate the requirement that a public body must make a written determination before using an RFP; eliminate the ability of a public body to use cooperative procurement for construction; allow small purchase to be used for construction of up to $100,000 and raise Job Order Contract (JOC) limits. HB 1371 also allows the use of ancillary A/E services as part of a JOC contract up to $25,000 per job and $75,000 per term.
The bills were amended in committee at the request of contractor groups with the addition of enactment clauses 4 and 5, which require public bodies to submit a written report showing the justification for any construction project exceeding $1 million not using competitive sealed bidding to the Department of General Services (DGS). Also the clauses allow any contractor on a public construction project to ask for an advisory opinion from DGS on whether the alternative procedure is justified. Both amendments have sunset clauses of July 1, 2017.
VACo Contact: Phyllis Errico, CAE
Other major procurement bills still alive after crossover
VACo support SB 1378 (Barker), which provides that a public body may purchase from contracts of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.
VACo has concerns over HB 1917 (LeMunyon), which requires a public body to put a notice on its website or otherwise post before entering into a contract with another governmental body for services above $25,000 that are on the “commercial activities list” (maintained by the Department of Planning and Budget) and to also allow private vendors to comment on the proposed procurement.
HB 1608 (Davis) prohibits local governing bodies from requiring contractors to pay employees more than required by state or federal law. The bill exempts contracts prior to 2015 and contracts pursuant to an economic development agreement.
HB 1628 (Albo) clarifies 2.2-4309 to allow contractors to make claims above 25 percent of fixed price contract, but also allows public bodies to void change orders above that amount not approved by the governing body.
SB 1226 (Reeves) requires that in the event weights are used in evaluating proposals, the weights must be posted either in the RFP or prior to the proposals being due.
VACo Contact: Phyllis Errico, CAE
Other education initiatives of interest
HB 2238 (LaRock) allows parents of students with disabilities to apply to their respective school divisions to open a Parental Choice Education Savings Account. A large share of deposits into these accounts would be derived from 90 percent of the pupil’s share of state funds paid to the locality through the funding formula used for calculating basic aid for each school division. The bill specifies that “no resident school division shall transfer the local share of per pupil funds” into the savings account. According to the bill, students participating in this program would be eligible to attend a qualified school not part of the school division. Students attending a qualified school would count toward the school division’s Average Daily Attendance (ADM.) HB 2238 passed the House on a vote of 57-42.
HB 1672 (Greason) passed the House, 90-10. This measure repeals the A-F school grading system created in 2013 Session and requires the Board of Education, in consultation with the Standards of Learning Innovation Committee, to submit a plan for redesigning the School Performance Report Card. The plan must be submitted for final approval no later than July 1, 2016, to the Chairs of the House Education Committee and the Senate Education and Health Committee.
HB 1483 (Tyler) conforms the county budget preparation and approval process to the schedule of municipalities, which means that if the bill passes, the deadline for county governing bodies to approve their school budgets would be extended from May 1 to May 15. The measure has unanimously passed the House.
VACo Contact: Larry Land, CAE
Measures on aquifer protection pass
HJR 623 (Hodges) and SJR 272 (Norment) are identical resolutions directing the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) to conduct a two-year study focusing on several different issues relating to the sustainability of groundwater and surface water consumption in Virginia. Final recommendations from the study are to be submitted by November 30, 2016. Both measures passed in the chambers where they were introduced.
HB 1924 (Hodges) and SB 1341 (Norment) are identical measures that establish the Eastern Virginia Groundwater Management Advisory Committee in order to assist the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) in developing, revising, and implementing a management strategy for groundwater in the Eastern Virginia Groundwater Management Area (comprising much of the area east of I-95). The bills have a sunset clause of January 1, 2018. The legislation also has an enactment clause prohibiting the State Water Control Board and DEQ from issuing “draft permits that would require reductions in permitted volumes of groundwater withdrawals prior to December 31, 2015.” Both measures passed in the chambers where they were introduced.
Related to the above measures is an item in the Senate’s proposed budget that provides $100,000 in general funds for FY 2015 for an assessment by the Hampton Roads Sanitation District (HRSD) of the feasibility of the use of treated waste water by the RockTenn paper mill in West Point as an alternative to the mill’s current use of groundwater.
VACo Contact: Larry Land, CAE