DES MOINES — The Iowa Senate voted Monday to exempt military retirement pay from state income taxes, a move that backers hope will encourage more veterans to stay, return or move to Iowa.

“This is a great piece of legislation,” said Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, who was floor manager for the first bill to clear the Senate chamber in the third week of the 2014 legislative session. The measure is retroactive to Jan. 1.

“It reflects a long-standing tradition of Iowa,” said Quirmbach, noting that veterans have been held in high regard throughout state history. “It’s time to welcome them back home, and this is a terrific way to do it.”

The measure, which passed 46-0, now goes to the House, where it is expected to win passage and head to the desk of Gov. Terry Branstad, who has made the measure part of his Home Base Iowa initiative to entice newly discharged veterans to fill skilled positions in Iowa as national military operations are downsized.

“This does more than simply reward and recognize the veterans for their service and their sacrifices,” said Sen. Daryl Beall, D-Fort Dodge. “It places an incentive for retired veterans to return to Iowa and to stay in Iowa.”

According to a Legislative Services Agency fiscal note, pension income paid to 11,472 Iowans in 2012 totaled $252.8 million. The state Department of Revenue estimates that 7,765 tax returns would benefit from the legislation not covered by other tax exemptions or provisions already in Iowa Code.

“I think it’s great for our veterans that they get this extra pension benefit,” said Sen. Randy Feenstra, R-Hull. “I hope that maybe as we move down the road that we can also do this for all of our pensions, and we can keep more of our seniors living here instead of moving out of our state.”

Iowa currently exempts the first $6,000 for a single person and $12,000 for a married couple in qualified retirement income from the state income tax, provisions that apply to traditional pensions, annuities and distributions from Individual Retirement Accounts and deferred compensation plans.

Backers said the exemption will provide $8.4 million in relief for the 2014 tax year, growing to $10 million by 2018. Currently, 26 other U.S. states offer similar tax breaks for military retirement benefits.

“Passing Senate File 303 moves our state in the right direction when it comes to competing with Midwest states, such as Illinois, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin, who have a similar exemptions already in place,” said Sen. Roby Smith, R-Davenport. He said the measure should benefit hundreds of present and past military employees at the Rock Island Arsenal living in Iowa.