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Senate considers education homestead exemption for Florida seniors

Sen. Manny Diaz says he wants to ease the tax burden on certain homeowners without significantly hurting schools.
Sen. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah, presents his bill to offer an additional education homestead exemption to some senior citizens, during a committee hearing on the first day of the 2019 legislative session. [The Florida Channel]
Sen. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah, presents his bill to offer an additional education homestead exemption to some senior citizens, during a committee hearing on the first day of the 2019 legislative session. [The Florida Channel]
Published Mar. 5, 2019

The day after Florida’s teachers union made a plea for added public school funding, a state Senate committee took steps to create a new education property tax exemption for some of the state’s senior citizens.

The measure (SJR 344 / SB 562) would freeze the taxable values of seniors who are 65 or older, and who have lived in their homes for 25 years or longer. That’s after an amendment to the original version, which would have eliminated school taxes for those homeowners.

Sponsor Sen. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah, said he anticipated to adjust the terms even more as the bill moves through the legislative process.

“This bill is a work in progress,” Diaz told the Community Affairs Committee, which unanimously moved the companion measures to their next committee stop.

He noted, for instance, that he did not intend for the owners of a multimillion-dollar home to benefit from the proposal. The goal, Diaz said, is to meet the “dire need for relief” of seniors who live on limited incomes in their modest homes, and cannot afford rising property taxes.

“This is the first attempt to modify this bill,” Diaz said of his amendment, adding that he wants to balance relief for homeowners against the financial requirements that schools face.

Sen. Gary Farmer, D-Fort Lauderdale, supported the bills on their first stop, saying he wanted to find a way to help elderly residents on fixed incomes but without harming schools. He noted that the staff analysis did not include a fiscal impact statement, and said he would need to see how many homeowners would be affected and how much tax revenue would not be collected.

“I’ve been a strong advocate, it’s no secret, that we increase the FEFP,” Farmer said. To the extent that this measure might hurt education funding, he said, “I want to know the impact. We’ve got plenty of time to work it out.”

Diaz said he has requested data, but until the terms of the proposal are ironed out, it’s difficult to come up with numbers.

Sen. David Simmons, R-Longwood, pointed out that the resolution, which would require voter approval, lays the groundwork for future lawmakers to set the terms such as which individuals are affected, what home values are included, and other impacts. He said he backed the language because that flexibility existed in the proposal.

The bills next head to the Senate Finance and Tax Committee for consideration. Companion bills in the House have been introduced but not yet assigned to any committees.