The much-amended Texas Constitution is up to be amended Nov. 7 – up to seven times.
The seven propositions voters will decide on are relatively minor and non-controversial, though a couple have drawn opposition.
One proposal would allow easier access to the equity in your home. Two others would allow pro sports teams, and financial institutions, to conduct raffles.
We’ll outline them briefly below, and suggest a site where you can get much fuller, even-handed descriptions.
Be aware there might be other items on your local ballots, like school or city bond issues, and maybe some local elections. Check your county election office website for information.
You can vote early – if you were registered by the cutoff date of Oct. 10. Early voting began Monday, Oct. 23, and lasts through Friday, Nov. 3.
There should be room at the polls. The usual turnout for an off-year election – when most constitutional amendments are decided – is pretty slim. There are no super-hot proposals this year, like the lottery legalization in 1991, to dramatically increase turnout.
The vote on amendments can double or triple on the few occasions when they are on the same ballot as governor or presidential elections.
Now, in brief, this year’s proposed amendments, followed by a brief discussion of why Texas amends its constitution so much:
Proposition 1 – Would authorize property tax exemptions for some partially disabled veterans or their surviving spouses.
Proposition 2 – Would allow borrowing against the equity in one’s home with fewer restrictions, and lower maximum fees.
Proposition 3 – Would limit the amount of time an officeholder appointed to a non-salaried position can serve after their term has expired. Currently, they can serve until a replacement is chosen.
Proposition 4 – Would require courts to notify the Texas attorney general of any constitutional challenges to state laws, and prescribe a waiting period before a court can declare the law unconstitutional.
Proposition 5 – Would allow charitable foundations associated with professional sports teams to conduct charitable raffles.
Proposition 6 – Would allow property tax exemptions for the surviving spouses of first responders who are killed in the line of duty.
Proposition 7 – Would allow credit unions and banks to hold promotional activities, like raffles, to encourage savings.
More Information: For a fuller and even-handed discussion of these proposed amendments, their legislative histories, and the pro’s and con’s of each of them, go to the Texas Legislative Council’s website (http://www.tlc.state.tx.us/docs/amendments/analyses17.pdf). It will give you all the details.
Why the Texas Constitution is amended so much:
As of last count, there have been 673 amendments considered by voters since the current Texas Constitution was written in 1876. Of those, 491 have passed, and 179 were defeated by Texas voters.
It has been only half-joked that in Texas, to get permission to hunt raccoons in Hemphill County – or to outlaw it – would probably require a constitutional amendment.
Blame the nit-picky constitution on the Civil War – or rather, the Radical Reconstruction government imposed on the Southern states after the North won the war.
Under Reconstruction, the governor had a lot of power, and appointing his own cabinet members, and controlling most agencies.
When Reconstruction finally ended in 1876, and Northern troops were withdrawn from the South, Texans wasted no time writing a new constitution.
The new document provided for a so-called “Weak Governor” system. The cabinet officials – attorney general, comptroller, treasurer, land commissioner, and so forth – were no longer appointed by the governor, but elected by voters – just like the governor.
Most governmental agencies were set up to be governed by appointive boards and commissions, in multiples of 3 – either 3, or 6, or 9 members – appointed by the governor, but requiring a two-thirds vote of approval by the Texas Senate.
The board members served for overlapping 6-year terms, so that only one-third of its members changed every two years.
Since the governor’s term was two years (the constitution was amended to make it four beginning in 1974), and the tradition was for no governor to serve more than two consecutive terms – there is no constitutional limitation – that meant it was not until the third year, and second round of appointments, that any governor would have appointed a majority of the boards’ members.
And with a tradition of no governor serving more than two successive terms, that lasted into the 1950s, the governor seldom got full control of a board.
(A major reason former Gov. Rick Perry became quite powerful was that he served for 14 years. By the time he retired, he had not only appointed every member of every board and commission, but reappointed several of them – and some even to a third six-year term.)
Now – go do your civic duty. Happy voting.
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