Widows of fallen officers could lose benefits if they remarry

AUSTIN (KXAN) -- A proposition that is up for public vote in Texas would provide tax breaks for spouses of first responders killed in the line of duty, but those benefits would disappear if the widow remarries.

Proposition 6, tied to Senate Joint Resolution 1, provides for "an exemption from ad 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." It is one of seven propositions on the November ballot.

The wording is such that the tax relief only applies "if the surviving spouse has not remarried since the death of the first responder."

Department of Public Safety Trooper Randy Vetter died in 2000 after he was shot while conducting a traffic stop. His widow, Cynthia Vetter, said that while she supports Prop 6, she's concerned about the benefits being tied to her marital status.

"I shouldn't be penalized in any form or fashion for a future spouse," Vetter said. She explained that she did not feel anything in life is "owed" to her, "except related to my husband's death."

"It's a very complicated issue when you are combining finances and love," Vetter explained. "I would prefer to keep those things separate... I think most people would."

"He sacrificed his life," she said, adding that she feels that the legislation "hasn't caught up... with the way we actually think." She believes the wording of the resolution is an "antiquated way of thinking."

State Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, authored Senate Joint Resolution 1. She responded to an interview request with a statement from her communications director:

Texas has tragically lost more police officers in the line of duty than any other state and 159 firefighters since 1990. Prop 6 gives Texans the opportunity to show our commitment to the heroes behind the badge who risk their lives every day to keep us safe. When we flee danger, they run towards it, and alleviating the tax burden on the family of a fallen first responder gives us a way to say thank you for your sacrifice."

Gov. Greg Abbott posted a video to Facebook on Monday that showed his support for Prop 6. "I urge all Texans to show their support for our veterans and first responders and vote in favor of these two very important amendments," Abbott said.

Vetter cited legislation passed this year related to workers' compensation death benefit eligibility for first responders. House Bill 2119 allows eligible spouses who remarry to receive workers' compensation death benefits for life.

"Does your loss change? No. Did your family sacrifice change? No... remarriage doesn't take any of those things away," Vetter said. "Is there a financial reason? Well, if so then let's examine that. Or is it just the status quo the way it has always been? Is it a language that has always been used? Is it the way that it has always been done? So let's just question that... let's not accept that language at face value."

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