The Texas State Constitution is unique in many ways, one of which is its length. At 86,936 words long including amendments added to the original document, our state Constitution is second in length only to Alabama’s with 388,882 words.
Our governing document is a patchwork quilt of various additions (amendments) that have been approved and attached over the years. In fact, through the 2019 legislative session, 690 amendments have been proposed with 507 adopted. Only California and Alabama have more amendments to their state Constitutions than the Lone Star state.
In fact, the Constitution of 1876 is the sixth constitution to govern Texans since 1836. The Texas Constitution is known for protecting individual rights more than most states. Another unique characteristic of our Texas Constitution is the ease of amending it. It has been amended more than 500 times.
Proposed amendments must pass the Texas Legislature by a 2/3 vote in both the Senate and the House, and then be submitted to the voters for approval or rejection. Our state founders wanted a document to limit the state governmental powers only to those annotated specifically in the state Constitution, so Constitutional Amendments were the only way to change the state government’s scope of authority.
Thus, no action can be taken by the state government unless specifically granted that power in our state Constitution. That has resulted in some rather strange amendments being considered, such as the 2007 Amendment to do away with the statewide office of Inspector of Hides by Constitutional Amendment. Apparently no one had held this office since 1990 and it passed with 76% of the vote.
This year, on Nov. 2, Texas voters will be considering eight possible amendments to our State Constitution. These proposed amendments deal with a myriad of topics including the qualifications for district and higher level judges, tax reductions for spouses of deceased military service members, counties rehabbing blighted roadways, etc.
To vote in this election, you must have been registered at least 30 days prior, and Early Voting will begin on October 18. You can find your voting location at www.VoteDenton.com. The propositions’ order as they appear on the ballot is determined by a random draw, this year by Deputy Secretary of State Joe Esparza.
Here is a synopsis of the eight proposed amendments, courtesy of Reform Austin:
Proposition 1 – What it says: “The constitutional amendment authorizing the professional sports team charitable foundations of organizations sanctioned by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association or the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association to conduct charitable raffles at rodeo venues.”
What it means: This amendment would authorize professional sports team charitable organizations to conduct raffles at rodeo venues.
Proposition 2 – What it says: “The constitutional amendment authorizing a county to finance the development or redevelopment of transportation or infrastructure in unproductive, underdeveloped, or blighted areas in the county.”
What it means: The amendment would authorize a county to issue bonds to fund infrastructure and transportation projects in undeveloped and blighted areas. It would also prohibit counties that issue bonds for such purposes from pledging more than 65% of the increase in ad valorem tax revenues to repay the bonds.
Proposition 3 – What it says: “The constitutional amendment to prohibit this state or a political subdivision of this state from prohibiting or limiting religious services of religious organizations.”
What it means: Proposition 3 would amend Article 1 of the Texas constitution by adding a new section prohibiting the state or any political subdivision from enacting a law, rule, order, or proclamation that limits religious services or organizations. Arguments against this amendment cite COVID as one valid reason to suspend religious services. Approving this proposition would prevent authorities from banning this type of events even during a worldwide pandemic.
Proposition 4 – What it says: “The constitutional amendment changing the eligibility requirements for a justice of the Supreme Court, a judge of the court of criminal appeals, a justice of a court of appeals, and a district judge.”
What it means: The amendment would change the eligibility requirements for the following judicial offices: a justice of the Supreme Court, a judge of the court of criminal appeals, a justice of a court of appeals, and a district judge. In most cases, it will double the years of legal experience required to serve as a judge.
Proposition 5 – What it says: “The constitutional amendment providing additional powers to the State Commission on Judicial Conduct with respect to candidates for judicial office.”
What it means: This proposition authorizes the Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct to accept and investigate complaints and reports against candidates running for state judicial office. This would ensure that judicial elections are fair by granting the State Commission on Judicial Conduct the authority to enforce the same standards for judicial candidates that they do for sitting judges.
Proposition 6 – What it says: “The constitutional amendment establishing a right for residents of certain facilities to designate an essential caregiver for in-person visitation.”
What it means: The amendment would allow residents of nursing facilities, assisted living facilities, or state-supported living centers to designate an essential caregiver that may not be prohibited from visiting the resident, even during a pandemic.
Proposition 7 – What it says: “The constitutional amendment to allow the surviving spouse of a person who is disabled to receive a limitation on the school district ad valorem taxes on the spouse’s residence homestead if the spouse is 55 years of age or older at the time of the person’s death.”
What it means: Currently, disabled individuals may apply for a $10,000 homestead tax exemption and a limit on school district property taxes. Proposition 7 would amend the Texas Constitution to allow the legislature to extend a homestead tax limit for surviving spouses of disabled individuals as long as the spouse is over 55 years old and resides at the home.
Proposition 8 – What it says: “The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to provide for an exemption from ad valorem taxation of all or part of the market value of the residence homestead of the surviving spouse of a member of the armed services of the United States who is killed or fatally injured in the line of duty.”
What it means: Similar to Proposition 7, this measure would amend the Texas Constitution to authorize a total residence homestead property tax exemption for a surviving spouse of a member of the armed services “who is killed or fatally injured in the line of duty.” Currently, the constitution grants the exemption only to the surviving spouse of a member of the armed services “who is killed in action.”
For questions on any of these amendments, you may contact your State Representatives – Tan Parker, District 63, at 972-724-8477 or Dr. Lynn Stucky, District 64, at 940-243-0230.
Contact Commissioner Edmondson by email at [email protected] or phone her at 972-434-3960. You can also stop by her office in the Southwest Courthouse, 6200 Canyon Falls Drive, Suite 900, in Flower Mound.