Vol 28, Issue 28 Print Issue

This Will Be on the Test

Texas Secretary of State Hope Andrade announcing the launch of the 2010 census in Texas
Texas Secretary of State Hope Andrade announcing the launch of the 2010 census in Texas

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 it 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.

This week, Secretary of State Hope Andrade conducted a lottery that determined the order of the 10 new proposals on the November ballot. Each amendment already won approval from two-thirds of the House and Senate and now needs a nod from a majority of the voters.

Here's the rundown:

SJR 14, 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. 

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 would allow the state to issue general obligation bonds to finance student loans.

HJR 63 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.

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.

HJR 109 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 28 would allow El Paso 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. 

SJR 16 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 deals with the governor's authority to pardon individuals who receive deferred adjudication. People 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.

SJR 37 would align the state's resign-to-run laws with the new primary election filing dates. Currently, elected officials can only keep their jobs if they file for other offices with less than one year left in their current terms. 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 posts to file for candidacies for other offices. The amendment would change the length of unexpired term from one year to one year and 30 days.