PA 17-189—sHB 7100

Veterans' Affairs Committee

Government Administration and Elections Committee

AN ACT CONCERNING AMERICAN LEGION STATE FUND COMMISSION TRANSPARENCY AND MUNICIPAL OPTION PROPERTY TAX EXEMPTIONS FOR CERTAIN VETERANS

SUMMARY: This act establishes an additional optional municipal veterans' property tax exemption by allowing a municipality, with its legislative body's approval, to provide a property tax exemption to veterans (see BACKGROUND) who do not qualify for certain existing veterans' property tax exemptions (i.e., wartime, disabled, and service-related severely disabled exemptions). A municipality may exempt up to $5,000 or 5% of the property's assessed value. The act establishes application requirements and procedures.

Existing law allows a municipality, with its legislative body's approval, to provide 100% disabled veterans under certain income thresholds with three times the amount provided under the state-mandated disabled veterans' property tax exemption program. The act increases such income eligibility thresholds from (1) $18,000 to $21,000, for unmarried veterans and (2) $21,000 to $24,000, for married veterans.

The act also generally deems any American Legion records related to the administration of the Soldiers', Sailors' and Marines' Fund (SSMF, see BACKGROUND) as public records and subject to disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). It prohibits the state treasurer, as the SSMF custodian and trustee, from disclosing certain personal information.

EFFECTIVE DATE: Upon passage for the FOIA provision, and October 1, 2017 for the property tax provisions, which apply to assessment years beginning on or after that date.

OPTIONAL MUNICIPAL VETERANS PROPERTY TAX EXEMPTION

Eligibility

Under the act, to be eligible for the optional municipal veterans' property tax exemption, a veteran must be a resident of the municipality providing the exemption and not be entitled to the state-mandated property tax exemptions for wartime, disabled, or service-related severely disabled veterans (CGS 12-81, (19) to (21)).

Additionally, such veteran's income cannot exceed (1) the state's income limit for other veterans' property tax exemptions set annually by the Office of Policy and Management for an unmarried person ($35,200 in 2017, including inflation adjustments) or (2) an amount the municipality sets, up to $25,000 more than the state limit.

Application Procedure

A veteran claiming the exemption must (1) notify the town clerk in the municipality where he or she resides and (2) file an application, on a form prepared by the tax assessor, before the assessment date for which the exemption is claimed.

The act requires the application to include the following documentation:

1. a certified copy of the veteran's military discharge document (e.g., DD 214) or at least two affidavits from disinterested persons showing the veteran was honorably discharged or released under honorable conditions from active service and

2. a copy of the veteran's federal income tax return or, if a return is not filed, income-related evidence required by the assessor for the tax year immediately before the assessment date for which the exemption is claimed.

Under the act, the assessor may further examine the veteran under oath about the facts in the affidavits.

The assessor must record, at no charge, each affidavit in full and list the veteran's name. The act prohibits an assessor, board of assessment appeals, or other official from granting an exemption until all of the required documentation is filed with the town clerk.

An exemption takes effect the day after an application is approved. The veteran must reapply for the exemption every two years.

Annual Certified List

The act requires the municipal tax assessor to annually make a certified list of veterans entitled to the exemption and file it in the town clerk's office. The list is prima facie evidence that the veteran is entitled to the exemption as long as he or she lives in the municipality and the municipality provides the exemption.

Appearance before the Assessor

Under the act, the assessor may, at any time, require a veteran to appear to furnish additional evidence. But an individual unable to appear because of a disability may submit to the assessor a statement from an attending physician or advanced practice registered nurse certifying the disability and inability to appear. The assessor may request other evidence of total disability that he or she deems appropriate.

Disqualifying Income

A veteran approved for an exemption in any year is presumed to qualify again in the following year. The assessor must notify each such veteran of this in writing. (Presumably, the notice would inform the veterans of their ability to claim the exemption that year.)

If the veteran's income exceeds the amount allowed that tax year, he or she must notify the assessor on or before the next filing date. The assessor must deny the exemption for the year immediately following and any subsequent year until the veteran reapplies and requalifies for the exemption.

The act requires any veteran who fails to notify the assessor of such income disqualification to make payments to the municipality in the amount of the property tax exemption that was improperly taken.

MUNICIPAL INCOME-BASED EXEMPTION

By law, municipalities must give disabled veterans an income-based exemption in addition to the state-mandated exemption. For veterans whose income falls below a statutorily determined limit, the additional exemption is equal to twice the underlying exemption (CGS 12-81g(a)). For veterans whose income is above the limit, the additional exemption is 50% of the underlying exemption (CGS 12-81g(d)). For 100% disabled veterans, the law, unchanged by the act, sets the exemption limit at $18,000 for unmarried veterans and $21,000 for married veterans.

Existing law allows a municipality, with its legislative body's approval, instead of providing the additional exemption described above, to provide 100% disabled veterans under certain income thresholds with three times the amount provided under the state-mandated disabled veterans' exemption. The act increases the income eligibility thresholds for this municipal option from (1) $18,000 to $21,000, for unmarried veterans and (2) $21,000 to $24,000, for married veterans.

FOIA DISCLOSURES

Under the act, the state treasurer is designated as the public agency for the purposes of any FOIA request and may access any American Legion record related to SSMF administration.

The act prohibits the treasurer from disclosing the personal information of anyone who (1) makes a gift, bequest, or donation to SSMF or (2) is an applicant for, or a recipient of, SSMF aid unless such disclosure is for (a) administering aid from the fund, (b) helping the applicant or recipient to obtain aid from any other government or private program, or (c) complying with a court order.

Under the act, “personal information” means information capable of being associated with a particular individual through one or more identifiers, including an individual's first name or initial and last name, a Social Security number, a driver's license number, a state identification card number, an account number, a credit or debit card number, a financial record, a passport number, an alien registration number, a health insurance identification number, or any military identification information. This information does not include any publically available information lawfully made available to the general public from federal, state, or local government records or widely distributed media.

"Military identification information" means information identifying a person as an armed forces member or a veteran (see BACKGROUND), including a Selective Service number, military identification number, discharge document, military identification card, or military retiree identification card.

BACKGROUND

Veteran

A “veteran” is anyone honorably discharged or released from active service in the U.S. Armed Forces.

U.S. Armed Forces

The “U.S. Armed Forces” means the U.S. Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, and Air Force, and any reserve component of these branches, including the Connecticut National Guard performing duty under Title 32 of the U.S. Code (e.g., certain Homeland Security missions).

SSMF

By law, the American Legion administers the SSMF, but the state treasurer is the custodian of the fund and is responsible for investing any amount not required for disbursement. The state treasurer uses the interest from the investment to provide temporary benefits, such as food, clothing, medical, surgical, and funeral assistance to eligible wartime veterans and their dependents or surviving dependents.