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Texans to Decide on Proposed State Constitutional Amendments

October 18, 2021 by Reece Nations
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday, June 22, 2020. (Ricardo B. Brazziell/Austin American-Statesman/TNS)

Early voting for eight propositions to amend the Texas Constitution starts on Monday throughout the Lone Star state.

The Texas Secretary of State’s office released explanatory statements for all of the constitutional amendments on the ballot ahead of the election. Constitutional amendments in Texas require the approval of a two-thirds majority in both the Texas House and Senate, but Texas voters get final approval of the proposed amendments in the lead-up to the uniform election on Nov. 2.

The proposed amendments encompass a range of issues for voters to decide on, including extended oversight of candidates vying for judicial office, tax financing for county infrastructure and property tax exemptions for bereaved and military families.

Proposition one on the ballot would extend permission to the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association and the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association to allow charitable raffles at the organizations’ events. Under current Texas law unauthorized raffles can be considered illegal gambling.

Next, proposition two would authorize Texas counties to issue bonds in order to finance the development of an “unproductive, underdeveloped, or blighted area within the county.” Repayment of the developmental bonds would come from increases in property tax revenues imposed by the county on property in the area.

Currently, Texas’s Constitution allows the legislature to authorize an incorporated city or town to issue bonds for local development, but the same authority is not expressly granted to counties. Proposition two also specifies counties that issue bonds for transportation improvements may not repay them by instituting ad valorem tax, or tax based on the assessed value of an item, increases of more than 65% each year, and the counties cannot use proceeds from the bonds to finance the creation, maintenance or acquisition of a toll road.

Texas’s third proposition on the ballot this week would bar the state or a “political subdivision” from enacting a statute that prohibits or limits religious services. This proposal originates from stay-at-home orders extended by local officials that required places of worship to limit their attendance or institute virtual services during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The fourth proposition up for consideration changes eligibility requirements of candidates running for justice of the Supreme Court, justice of a court of appeals, judge of the Court of Criminal Appeals or district judge. The proposition would mandate individuals to have 10 years of combined experience practicing law in Texas to be an eligible candidate in the state where judges are elected by popular vote.

Further, proposition four requires candidates running for a district judge seat to have eight years of judicial experience or law practice in Texas courts. Under current law, judicial candidates may include out-of-state experience to satisfy eligibility requirements while candidates for district judge only need four years of experience of law practice or judicial experience.

Proposition five would open up the State Commission on Judicial Conduct to accept complaints and conduct investigations into candidates for state judicial offices. Current Texas law only permits the commission to take authorized actions against individuals already holding a judicial office.

The sixth proposition on Texas’ ballots also comes as a response to restrictions put in place during the pandemic. Proposition six would allow residents of nursing facilities, assisted living facilities, intermediate care facilities for individuals with intellectual disabilities, or state-supported living centers to designate an essential caregiver with whom in-person visitation may not be prohibited. 

Restrictions on nursing home visitations were instituted in March 2020 as facilities across the state coped with an influx of COVID-19 cases but were eventually eased five months later in August. Nursing home facilities were some of the hardest-hit areas during the height of the pandemic, with 9,394 total COVID-19 deaths occurring among nursing home residents in Texas alone according to the CDC’s National Healthcare Safety Network long-term care facility module.

The last two propositions on ballots are a pair of property tax exemptions: one for surviving spouses of people with disabilities older than 65 years of age, and the other for surviving spouses of members of the armed services killed in the line of duty.

Proposition seven would limit school district property taxes incurred by surviving spouses of people with disabilities over 65 as long as the spouse is at least 55 years old at the time of their partner’s death and they are still living in the same home. This proposition was passed as a bill during the 2019 legislative session but requires voters’ approval to modify the state tax code.

Proposition eight extends eligibility for residential homestead tax exemptions to spouses of military members killed or fatally injured in the line of duty. Current law only extends the exemption to spouses of military members killed in action, while the proposition would grant the same exemption to members of the military who die from injuries that are not combat-related. 

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