Current Florida law denies tax break to first responders injured out of state

Time running out to revise original 2016 amendment

Three years after Florida voters approved a property tax break for permanently disabled first responders, there is an effort to include first responders who were injured while serving in another state who are left out by the current law.

The November 2016 amendment, which passed with nearly 84 percent of the vote, intended to provide a homestead tax break to all first responders who met the medical criteria but the language was amended in 2017 without voter approval.

“It was a lie,” a former New York undercover officer told News 6. “I’ve been here since 2006, so, I’ve been paying property taxes like anyone else.”

Jim Bomford, a 12-year veteran of the New York Transportation Authority, said there is no “plausible explanation” to ban any eligible first responder now living in the state.

“No one I know went to the World Trade Center on 9/11 and said, 'Let me see your driver’s license, we’re only rescuing people from New York,'" Bomford said. “No one thinks about the idea you’re going to get hurt -- you go in and you do it.”

Bomford, a member of the Alliance of Retired First Responders in Florida, is afraid if the bill dies in session this year, it is finished leaving him and many like him without the means to keep their homes.

The original amendment called for a “100 percent homestead exemption for first responders who are totally and permanently disabled as a result of an injury sustained in the line of duty.”

The revised version limited the property tax benefit to first responders injured while serving in Florida.
State Sen. David Simmons (R) and state Rep. Adam Hattersley (R) sponsored measures to reverse the change enacted by Florida legislators.

“Ultimately, they served their community and their country,” Hattersley said. “I would say welcome them home.”

Still, State Rep. Bobby Payne, of Palatka, has been reluctant to move forward because of what he views as a question of cost.

While Payne has voiced support for first responders, he argues that if their service was in a different state, the issue becomes “more complicated."

Simmons’ Senate Bill 1490, which addresses the property tax exemption for first responders, would have revised the definition of the term "first responder," for purposes of the tax exemption.

The bill would “include law enforcement officers and firefighters who sustained a total and permanent disability in the line of duty while serving as full-time paid employees in another state."

With the close of Florida’s legislative session on May 3, Hattersley said he is not optimistic the bill will be heard in the house. He said he is already making a new version of the measure his "top priority” this summer.

Bomford said leaving disabled first responders out of the equation, saves taxpayers about $1.6 million in a budget that stood at $88 billion for the 2017-2018 fiscal year.

"You’re on Social Security Disability, so you can’t work," Bomford said. “We are asking for a partial break on the (property) taxes, that’s all.”

There are roughly 5,000 first responder retirees in the state, but according to Bomford, only 200 would be eligible for the tax benefit that would be passed on to the surviving spouse.

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