Most voters heading to the polls Nov. 3 are thinking primarily about the top of their ballot and the fiercely contested presidential election. But in several states, voters will also be asked to consider a proposed constitutional amendment or public question affecting veterans and their families.
These referendum votes reach the ballot following aggressive campaigns, and often must receive a supermajority of 60% or more to pass. Here's what you need to know about 2020 ballot measures affecting veterans.
Florida: Amendment 6
One of the six proposed constitutional amendments before Florida voters in 2020 is a measure that would allow the surviving spouse of a deceased veteran to receive that veteran's homestead property tax discount. The property tax discount in question applies to some vets with permanent combat-related disabilities. Under current policy, the discount vanishes if the veteran dies.
The proposed amendment would allow the surviving spouse to keep the discount unless they remarry, or sell or otherwise dispose of the property in question.
The amendment's language passed unanimously through the Florida House and Senate before reaching the ballot for a referendum vote, and would require a 60% supermajority for passage. If passed, it would go into effect Jan. 1, 2021.
On Oct. 16, the Herald-Tribune newspaper published a compilation of seven Florida newspapers' editorial boards weighing in on the ballot question. All seven concluded that the measure should pass.
"Veterans aren't the only ones sacrificing their lives for the country," the board of Florida Today wrote in an editorial. "That sacrifice is shared by their spouses and family, and they too deserve a property tax break."
New Jersey: Public Question 2
In the Garden State, voters must decide whether to extend a $250 property tax deduction for wartime veterans to vets who served in peacetime. The deduction is currently also available to the surviving spouses of deceased wartime veterans, and the measure would make spouses of peacetime veterans eligible for it as well.
Another tax relief policy for disabled wartime vets would also be extended to their disabled peacetime counterparts through the measure: a 100% property tax exemption, which also applies to surviving spouses. An honorable military discharge is a prerequisite for both the deduction and the exemption.
The amendment was first proposed in the New Jersey legislature in December 2019. According to information compiled by Ballotpedia, it's estimated to benefit an additional 4,000 New Jersey veterans. That would cost an estimated $38 million in lost revenue if it passes.
The measure has the support of those who call it a matter of simple equality. The outlet NJSpotlight quoted Veterans of Foreign Wars New Jersey State Adjutant Ken Hagemann, who said all veterans deserve the tax break.
"It's unfair that some bureaucrat or legislator who's long gone decided this," Hagemann said. "The VFW will do whatever it has to do to help you along with this."
If approved by a majority of voters, this amendment would take effect Jan. 1, 2021.
Virginia: Question 2
In Virginia, voters must decide on approving a different kind of tax break for some veterans: a motor vehicle property tax exemption for all 100% disabled vets. The exemption would apply to only one motor vehicle or pickup truck, and requires a confirmed disability rating from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
According to a breakdown of the issue from 13NewsNow, the amendment is intended to offer some relief to veterans who require specially designed -- and thus more costly -- vehicles due to service-connected disabilities. However, it would apply to all disabled veterans, whether they require these vehicle modifications or not.
"We have a sacred obligation to those who have risked life and limb on behalf of our freedom," Virginia state delegate Dan Helmer, an Army veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan and a proponent of the amendment, has said, according to DailyProgress. The amendment has been opposed by the Virginia Municipal League and the Virginia Association of Counties, which point out it's the latest in a series of tax exemptions for veterans and military families, and it's not clear how lost local tax revenue -- in the absence of compensating assistance from the state -- will be made up.
If approved, that measure would also take effect on the first of next year.
-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.