The May 22 tornado destroyed more than 300 businesses in the Joplin area. Rep. Bill White, R-Joplin, sponsored the bill that provides tax breaks to commercial properties that were completely destroyed in natural disasters, but the bill did not include a definition for "destroyed."
"It would be very difficult for me to come up with some sort of universal definition of 'destroyed' that would be relevant and applicable across the entire scope of commercial property," White said.
Although it did not define disaster, it did say what a natural disaster was not.
"The issue of arson wouldn't apply, the issue of accidental fire where the petrol chemical plant at the end of the block blows up," White said.
The job of deciding what 'destroyed' means will be left up to property assessors, who will make decisions on a county-by-county basis.
"I'm not trying to tell the assessor how to do their job," said White. "My guess is that it probably varies across counties."
The bill also did not include the definition of the word "disaster." White said he feels that his constituents were being "nickeled and dimed" without this bill because they are not making any money on former commercial property.
The bill also includes a clause to prevent fraudulent claims against the system. Those who make a claim for tax relief would not reap the benefits of the tax breaks if they continue to use the property for other commercial purposes.
"We try not to let them fudge our system, that's part of the double penalty part," White said.
Those found guilty of fraud would be charged double the assessed property value and face other legal penalties.
The bill passed in the House Ways and Means Committee with an 11-0 vote and also had no opposition in the House Rules Committee. The next step for the bill will be determined Friday on the House floor.
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