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Texas voters to consider 10 constitutional amendments

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Posted: Friday, July 15, 2011 12:00 am

AUSTIN -- In a little celebrated — in fact, hardly noticed — biennial Texas tradition, voters will decide the fate of 10 new proposed constitutional amendments in November.

The amendments are the newest in a long line of legislative proposals to update the state Constitution. Since the Constitution was ratified in 1876, Texas voters have considered 646 proposed amendments and approved 467, according to the Legislative Reference Library. Texas is not alone in its prodigious accumulation of constitutional amendments, however. Alabama leads that contest. Its voters, according to Texas Politics, have amended their constitution almost 800 times since its creation in 1901.

Today, Secretary of State Hope Andrade conducted a lottery that determined the position each of the 10 new proposals will get on the November ballot. Each of the proposed constitutional changes has already been approved by two-thirds of the House and Senate, but a majority of the voters must approve before the amendments can be implemented.

Here’s a rundown of what you’ll be deciding come November.

First on the ballot will be SJR 14, by state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, which aims to ease the financial burden on spouses of totally disabled veterans. It would allow the Legislature to exempt the surviving spouses of 100-percent disabled veterans from property taxes on all or part of the market value of their home. 

Second is SJR 4, which would allow the Texas Water Development Board to issue bonds for projects that will eventually become self-sustaining. The board, which has a zero default rate, issues bonds for water infrastructure projects. The amendment would allow the board to issue a maximum of $6 billion at any time.

SJR 50 will appear third on the ballot and would allow the state to issue general obligation bonds to finance student loans.

HJR 63, which will be fourth on the ballot, would allow counties to issue bonds to finance the development of transportation reinvestment zones. Such zones allow cities to use certain property tax revenues to build roads and other transportation projects in that area. Currently, cities are able to issue transportation reinvestment zone bonds, but it has been unclear whether counties have the authority to do so.

Next on the ballot will be SJR 26, which would make it easier and cheaper for cities or counties to enter into multi-year interlocal contracts — agreements between government agencies to share budgets. Right now, if a city or county wants to partner with another on a project, it has to create a special tax and a special debt fund for that project. Julie Frank, committee director for the Texas Senate Committee on Intergovernmental Relations, said the amendment would simply “clean up” the process.

After that on the ballot will be HJR 109. It proposes clarifying references to the Permanent School Fund, a pot of money generated from the sale of state property that goes to Texas public schools. It would allow the General Land Office to distribute revenue from the fund, and it would increase the market value of the permanent school fund, allowing schools to get more money. 

SJR 28will appear seventh and would allow El Paso County to be included in the list of counties authorized to create conservation and reclamation districts. With the amendment, El Paso County could use tax revenue to develop parks and recreational facilities. 

Following that amendment will be SJR 16, by state Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls. The amendment would create an open-space tax exemption for water stewardship. Open-space is land zoned for preservation of natural resources, and historically, open space in Texas has been used for farming or timber. The amendment would add water stewardship, or conservation, to the list, providing extra incentive for individuals to conserve the 90 percent of state water that flows through privately owned land.

SJR 9, appearing ninth on the ballot and authored by state Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, deals with the governor’s authority to pardon individuals who receive deferred adjudication. Individuals who are sentenced to deferred adjudication are given probation-like conditions, and if they complete the program successfully, a judge can dismiss the charges. Currently, the governor can only pardon convicted individuals, but the authority does not extend to those who have deferred adjudication. The governor would only be able to issue a pardon with the recommendation of the Board of Pardons and Paroles and in criminal cases excluding treason and impeachment.

Last to appear on the ballot will be SJR 37, aligning the resign-to-run laws with the new primary election filing date. Now, elected officials can only keep their jobs if they file for candidacy with less than one year left in their current term. But during the legislative session, lawmakers moved the primary election filing deadline from Jan. 2 to mid-December to accommodate military and overseas voters. That would force some elected officials to resign from their current post to file for candidacy. The amendment would change the length of unexpired term from one year to one year and 30 days.

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan public media organization that operates www.texastribune.org. Its mission is to promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, politics, government, and other matters of statewide concern through original journalism and on-the-record, open-to-the-public events. The Monitor uses its content free of charge.

 

 

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