ANNAPOLIS Without debate, the House of Delegates unanimously passed a bill Tuesday morning to give Holocaust victims a one-time tax break on money received from settlements with Swiss and German banks. The bill also would allow families to recoup life insurance money from companies that failed to pay claims in the past.
“I am, of course, delighted that it passed,” said Delegate Marilyn Goldwater, D-Montgomery, lead sponsor of the bill. “I think it’s the right thing to do.”
Goldwater’s bill exempts victims of Nazi persecution from paying inheritance taxes on stolen assets, like looted art, that may be recovered and reparation payments that may be received. The bill also provides for a one-time personal income tax deduction for those assets and reparations. Spouses or descendants would benefit in cases where victims have died.
“I am very grateful that the House saw fit to do the right thing to help Holocaust victims,” said Delegate Adrienne Mandel, D-Montgomery, a co-sponsor of the bill. “It’s never too late to do right.”
The legislation comes on the heels of a $1.25 billion settlement made with Swiss banks in January for allegedly hoarding treasures confiscated from Holocaust victims. Last month, the German government announced that the country’s largest banks and businesses would establish a compensation fund for workers enslaved by the Nazis during the war. That fund is expected to top $2 billion.
There are approximately 1,700 registered Holocaust survivors in Maryland and 1,500 children and grandchildren of survivors, according to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Only about 300 Holocaust survivors in Maryland are claimants in an international class action lawsuit, however it is not clear how many Marylanders would benefit from the different settlements with Swiss and German banks. Neither Goldwater’s nor Mandel’s families would benefit from the bill.
Goldwater has estimated that the bill’s tax exemption would average about $100 or $200 per person, but said that the money is secondary to the intent of the bill.
“It’s seeking moral justice, rather than anything else,” she said.
Goldwater’s bill also would help families file claims on life insurance policies of Holocaust victims, even if the heirs lack proper documentation. While proceeds from insurance policies are not taxed, the interest on those proceeds is taxable. Goldwater’s bill would exempt victims from paying that tax as well.
A similar bill passed unanimously in the Senate last month and was introduced in the House. That bill, sponsored by Sen. Jean Roesser, R-Montgomery, differs from Goldwater’s bill in that it does not have provisions for insurance claims. The House Ways and Means Committee has not yet taken action on Roesser’s bill.
Goldwater’s bill will now be sent across the Statehouse hall to the Senate for more legislative review.
Delegate Mandel said that in the end, it’s not important which bill gets passed. “It’s the content that’s most important to me,” she said, “to help people.”
Gov. Parris N. Glendening has encouraged the legislative effort. “The governor fully supports this bill, fully supports the intention behind it,” said Glendening’s Press Secretary Ray Feldmann, “and is eager to sign it [into law].” -30-