How is the Texas Constitution Changed?
What Proposed Amendments did Texas legislators agree to place before voters this year? The 10 amendments the legislators agreed to put before voters this year most often have to do with raising money by using bonds to take care of problems ranging from water management to student loans. The general reason is to update the Constitution by adding the amendments (Brown, 2011).
Below are listed the ten joint resolutions approved in the 2011 Regular session which propose the 10 amendments be added to the Constitution by the 82nd Texas Legislature. The voters now have a chance to support or oppose the amendments with their votes on November 8, 2011.
Amendment No. 1 (S.J.R. 14) Allows the surviving spouses of 100% disabled veterans exemption from property taxes of their residence.
Amendment No. 2 (S.J.R. 4) Authorized the Texas Water Development Board to issue bonds (not to exceed $6 billion at any time outstanding). The money to be used to improve infrastructure which will become self-sustaining projects, ensure there is enough water, and to develop a water management plan for future water needs.
Amendment No. 3 (S.J.R. 50) Pertaining to state financial assistance to students by issuing general obligation bonds in order to be able to offer loan assistance to students (finance student loans).
Amendment No. 4 (H.J.R. 63) Addresses the need of counties to issue bonds to build “transportation reinvestment zones.” Increases in property taxes would be used to repay the bonds (or notes). Cities have had this capability but the law on counties had been unclear to this point.
Amendment No. 5 (S.J.R. 26) Cities or counties to make inter-local contracts with other cities or counties without having to first call for more taxes or the “provision of a sinking fund (money to pay interest on debt).” This will make cooperative projects more efficient and easier to get started (and presumably finished).
Amendment No. 6 (H.J.R. 109) The amount of money that can be distributed from a “permanent school fund to . . . available school fund” is limited with this amendment. The way the market value of the permanent school fund is calculated is changed. Also an institution other than the State Board of Education can manage the permanent school fund land and “other properties.” So the General Land Office will manage the funds.
Amendment No. 7 (S.J.R. 28) El Paso County can “permit conservation and reclamation districts” to issue bonds. The bonds are needed for funds to fix up and maintain parks and recreational areas.
Amendment No. 8 (S.R.J. 16) The amendment changes how taxes are calculated on open-land spaces. They to be taxed in proportion to productive capacity (ex. livestock) and adds water stewardship. The purpose is to promote water conservation on land zoned for “preservation of natural resources and historically open space” (Brown, 2011).
Amendment No. 9. (S.R.J. 9) The amendment attempts to make fairer the treatment of non-violent criminals by giving the governor power to pardon a person convicted of a crime who has met the goals of his/her time in a deferred community supervised situation (like probation). This would clear their criminal record and make it easier for them to find a job.
Amendment No. 10 (S.R.J. 37) The amendment addresses the time limits of elected officials in county or district offices if/when they become candidates for a different office. It is called the “resign-to-run” provision. It makes the timing appropriate to the filing deadline which was changed.
Joint Resolution Adopted by the Legislature for a public vote:
HJR 109 Authors: Orr, Aycock, Hochbert, Pitts, and Otto.
The Amendment gives permission to the General Land Office to spend the money from the permanent school fund or properties the school fund has access. The General Land Office is also supposed to “increase the market value of permanent school fund” so there will be more money available. Since the General Land Office is taking over the responsibility from the State Board of Education this amendment is necessary. The General Land Office will hopefully be able to generate a higher market value for the school fund which would help out the schools.
Everyone voted for the amendment in the House, concurring with the Senate. This seems to be a really popular bill. All 31 members of the Senate voted for the amendment with a voice vote (on the third reading).
Repr. Branch had a question from one of his constituents that this change would not be good for the public school systems. Repr. Weber wanted assurances that the General Land Office would be able to handle more work. They both voted, yes, in the end.
The supporters of the amendment said that making the terminology consistent would clarify confusion with the amendment. They also pointed out that more transparency is given with these changes plus the funds would be safer.
The opponents of the amendment say that the action would make the fund available for short term projects “which defeats the purpose of (long term) investment fund” (Staff, 2011).
The schools need funds now so I think this will be fine if the money is managed wisely. I think the public will vote in favor of the amendment.
Not Adopted by Joint Resolution for Election Ballot November 8, 2011: HJR 14, Article 1(Staff, 2011). This amendment would protect citizens from having property taken or damaged by the state. It would be added to give more force to the Constitutions’ Fifth Amendment Section 17.
Supporters claimed that it is better to have an amendment to solve problems that come up under the 5th Amendment Section 17 now. The most important point for them that clarity is made concerning the use of eminent domain. The amendment would emphasize that “public use” means that property couldn’t be taken for (economic) development or to gain more tax revenues. They want to close a loophole which gives government to call good land a “blight” and take it.
The opponents are happy to have problems resolved statutorily. They claim that putting this into an amendment would make the law permanent and situations may arise when that is not good. So they want the judicial system to remain as the way to solve problems.
Another comment was that it is good for the legislator to consider a solution to the problems around eminent domain in the state but this proposed amendment is not a guaranteed protection of a property owner. A more holistic approach is needed in law to protect the property owner.
The last comment is the one I support.
Brown, B. 2011. LEGISLATURE 82ND LEGISLATIVE SESSION. Tx Voters Will Consider 10 Constitutional Changes. Preston Hollow Democrats. www.prestonhollowdems.org 13 July 2011 Web. 26 Oct. 2011.
Staff of the Texas Legislative Council. 2011. Condensed Analysis of Proposed Constitutional Amendments. Election: 8 Nov. 2011. Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, Joint Chair Speaker Joe Straus, Joint Chair Debbie Irvine, Executive Director. July 2011.
82nd Legislature First Called Session. 2011. Texas Legislature. www.legis.state.tx.us. 2011. Web. 26 Oct. 2011.
Explanatory Statements for the November 8, 2011 Texas Constitutional Amendment Election. 2011. Vote Texas. 2011. Web. 25 Oct. 2011.