Texas Legislation

Maj Jim Cunningham USA (Ret):

Legislative priorities for the 85th Texas Legislature: Wrap-up Report

Hazlewood Education Act:
Opponents of the Hazlewood Act were attempting to significantly change the eligibility for access to Hazlewood, limit the time that the benefits can be used, and significantly reduce the credit hours for degree completion.  

TCVO Objective:  Protect the education benefits earned by Texas military Veterans for themselves and for their families.

Summary: The Institutions of Higher Learning (IHL) conducted a campaign to reduce benefits received by Veterans, their spouses, and dependents currently available under the terms and conditions of the Hazlewood Act. 

TCVO leadership along with our grassroots members attended and testified at all House Higher Education Committee (HHEC) hearings related to Hazlewood, presented testimony against changes to Hazlewood benefits and requirements, and responded to points brought forward by those seeking these changes.  It should be noted that none of the IHL's provided public testimony in support of any of the Hazlewood reform proposals. Further, the Legislative Budget Board concluded in their April 27, 2017 Fiscal Note on Chairman Lozano's HB 3766 that "the fiscal implications of the bill cannot be determined at this time" and "the net change in waived tuition and fee revenue at IHEs cannot be determined due to lack of information on the number of students affected by the various provisions of the bill". Until we have independently and uniformly gathered data from all IHL Systems relating to Legacy students, this issue will likely remain unresolved.  Before the end of the Session any legislation proposing to alter Hazlewood, failed to be voted out of the HHEC and never reached the House.

Result: mission accomplished. No changes were made to Hazlewood benefits or requirements for use of these benefits. Hazlewood will remain as it has been subject to review during the 86th Interim Session. 
Hazlewood Forecast:  Because Hazlewood is so important to all Veterans, our work on this issue is not over.  And because the IHL did not get the changes they wanted, they will be back to try again next session.  TCVO's goal is to continue our good faith efforts to engage with legislative and university leadership in an effort to find a solution.  Hazlewood benefits will continue to be threatened until we can reach a solid, long term resolution that satisfies the basic IHL concerns while still providing stability and predictability for veterans looking to receive the benefits they have earned.  Only when we get a stable, predictable solution will this issue be resolved. 

Property Tax Relief for Veterans Disabled Less Than 100%:
Proposed change includes the set dollar amounts for four levels of VA disability ratings to a percentage figure.  The proposed % figures would be used to determine the annual property tax exemption dollar reduction when compared to the average appraised value of a principal residence in Texas.  

Summary: any proposed tax relief for Veterans disabled less than 100% faced an uphill battle due to the shortfall of revenue to the State. The shortfall is due to diminished oil and gas revenues concomitant with the significant reduction in consumer gas prices.  Any tax relief comes as an unfunded mandate from the State to the county appraisal districts. This means that the appraisal districts must absorb any tax relief to Veterans disabled less than 100% without any financial support from the State. TCVO anticipated the appraisal districts fight any significant tax relief.
Result: as mentioned, the budget shortfall made any property tax relief an impossible task. TCVO will work with House and Senate advocates for property tax relief for Veterans disabled less than 100% during the Interim.

Military Absentee Voting:
If military absentee ballots go out late by any time frame (eg: hours or days), the grace period will increase to six (6) days to allow military absentee voters extra time to return the absentee ballot to the local clerk's office to compensate for the late shipment and subsequent receipt from local election offices.

Summary: a simple, straightforward solution has been worked out between TCVO and the Office of the Secretary of State whereby the number of days allowed in the grace period will be changed from the originally proposed ten days to a compromised six days. This is a Win/Win arrangement for all parties.

HB 929: Adds 6 days to grace period for ballots to be counted. The bill would amend the Election Code relating to the time for returning ballots mailed by certain federal postcard applicants. The Secretary of State assumes any additional work associated with implementing the provisions of the bill could be absorbed using existing resources. HB929 was approved by the House and Senate, and was signed by Governor Abbott on 6/15/2017; effective 1 September 2017.
SB 752 pertains to overseas e-mail ballot program, and amends the Election Code to make permanent the program under which a member of the U.S. armed forces who is on active duty overseas and eligible for hostile fire pay is allowed to return an early voting ballot by email. SB 752 was signed by Governor Abbott on 5/27/2017 and is effective immediately.
Result: mission accomplished.

Veteran related bills from the 85th Texas Legislature:

Effective Immediately:
HB777: property tax relief for Military:  eligibility of land owned by certain members of the armed services of the United States for appraisal for ad valorem tax purposes as qualified open-space land
HB1117: eligibility for Texas Armed Services Scholarship Program
HB1492: creation of the National Museum of the Pacific War Museum fund
SB587: virtual school network for military dependents
SB752: overseas Military e-mail ballot program
SB1152: excused absences from public school for the purpose of pursuing enlistment in a branch of the armed services of the United States or the Texas National Guard

Effective 1 Sep 2017:
H.B. 217 would amend Chapter 33, Tax Code, regarding property tax collections, to include
"disabled veterans" who qualified for a residence homestead exemption to be permitted to defer
collection of property taxes, abate a suit to collect a delinquent tax, or to abate a sale to foreclose
a tax lien.
HB257: Texas Work Force Commission report of transition from Military to employment
HB271: establishment of the Veterans Recovery Pilot Program to provide certain veterans with hyperbaric oxygen treatment
HB626: extend the deadline for a late application for an exemption for a partially or totally disabled veteran from one year to five years after the delinquency date, bringing these exemptions in line with certain other exemptions.
HB890:  impact of Military installations on purchases of real property
HB1606 and HB1630:  authority of Texas Military Department to purchase food and beverages, and approval of expenditures
HB1646: waiver of certain fees for an assumed name certificate or statement of abandonment of the use of an assumed name by a military veteran
HB1655:  report offenses committed by Texas Military Forces
HB2007 and HB2933:  licensing and regulation of Military optometrists
SB16:  reducing handgun license fees especially Military and Veterans
SB102: relating to General Officers within the State military department
SB588: relating to information regarding private employers who have Veteran's employment preference policies
SB1559: fee exemption for guardianship proceedings of certain military service members

Effective 1 Jan 2018:
HB493: requires that the Texas Workforce Commission, in consultation with the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB), report how many academic or workforce credit hours are awarded each academic year.

Disabled Veterans:
HB217:  authority of certain persons to defer or abate the collection of ad valorem taxes on a person's residence homestead. Signed by Governor; effective 9/1/17
HB626:  late applications for certain exemptions from ad valorem taxation; signed by Governor; effective 9/1/2017
HB1101:  Relating to the authority of the chief appraiser of an appraisal district to require a person to file a new application to confirm the person's current qualification for the exemption from ad valorem taxation of the total appraised value of the residence homestead of a 100 percent disabled veteran.  Signed by Governor; effective 1 Jan 2018.
SB15 (includes SJR1): Relating to an exemption from ad valorem taxation of the residence homestead of the surviving spouse of a first responder who is killed or fatally injured in the line of duty. Signed by Governor 96/9/17; effective January 1, 2018, contingent upon approval by the voters of the constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to provide for an exemption from ad SRC-SWG S.B. 15 85(R) Page 3 of 3 valorem taxation of all or part of the market value of the residence homestead of the surviving spouse of a first responder who is killed or fatally injured in the line of duty.
SB1047: installment payments of ad valorem taxes. Signed by Governor 6/12/17; effective 1/1/18.

We have just completed the special session of the 85th Legislature. None of the issues being presented during the special session have any direct effect on military members or the veteran community except for the annexation bill that was passed. Though this bill does not directly affect us, it does provide for a five mile zone around our military facilities to protect against encroachment.

I am watching for interim hearings that may occur relative to the Hazlewood Act or for that matter any issue that may affect the military or veteran's community, however, not much will happen until the end of the special session.