Legislative Report

Reminder to Vote!

Early voting continues through Friday, November 1.

Friday, October 25, 2019 is the last day to apply for mail-in ballot. Please note: applications must be received by the county election department on or before this day.

Election day is November 5. Please note: mail-in ballots must be received by the county election department on or before this day.

Constitutional Amendments on the November 5, 2019 Ballot

During the Legislative session earlier this year, the Texas Legislature passed 10 proposed amendments to the Texas Constitution, each by at least 2/3 vote of the House and the Senate. Whether or not these proposed amendments are adopted is now up to the voters. This article provides a brief description and analysis of each amendment, with a couple of recommendations from the author, Stephanie Ertel, Legislative Chair.

#1 would allow an individual to be elected or appointed to more than one office as a municipal judge at the same time. Currently, municipal judges can be appointed to more than one office, but this proposition would extend to municipal judges who are elected. While there is some concern that a judge might not dedicate the necessary time to each office, the needs of small communities to have municipal judges available to resolve cases involving city ordinances and misdemeanors punishable by fines should be considered.

#2 would allow the Texas Water Development Board to issue bonds to help economically distressed areas. It is hard to argue against providing funding to distressed areas such as colonias in South and West Texas to provide safe running water and to address public health concerns associated with sewage run-off and failed septic systems. Opponents argue that these problems should be addressed by forcing projects to compete for general revenue funds.

#3 would allow the legislature to provide for temporary property tax relief for cities and counties that have been declared a disaster area by the governor, rather than forcing property owners to endure the burden of reappraisal. Opponents see this proposal as harmful to local governments’ ability to generate revenue, and point to the existing reappraisal process as a sufficient remedy for property owners affected by disasters.

#4 would constitutionally prohibit a state income tax, making it even more difficult for the Legislature to address the needs of Texans in the future; current law requires that approval of a tax on personal income must be approved by voters. Organizations that advocate for health care, education, housing and other needs of Texans have come out against this amendment, which is supported by business and anti-tax interests. It does not make sense to tie the hands of the Legislature in the future with this amendment.

#5 would dedicate revenues generated from the Sporting Goods sales tax to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the Texas Historical Commission to protect and preserve the State’s natural areas, including State Parks. Existing law calls for these funds to be dedicated, but the Legislature uses a loophole to move part of these tax revenues to fill other holes in the State Budget. This use of the Sporting Goods sales tax needs protection in the Constitution.

#6 would allow an increase of $3 billion in bond authority for the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, to allow this agency to continue as a leader in cancer research and prevention, bringing benefits to the health of Texans and the Texas economy. Otherwise, the funding may run out by the 2022 fiscal year. Opponents object to any increase in state debt and claim that cancer research is not a necessary state function.

#7 would allow the General Land Office to distribute more funds to the Available School Fund (doubled from $300 to $600 million) and raise the constitutional cap on distributions by the State Board of Education from the Public School Fund to the Available School Fund to $600 million, thereby improving the funding available for public schools when funds are available. Opponents claim that there is a risk that raising the cap on transfers by the General Land Office to the Available School Fund will reduce the amount the GLO directs to the PSF and ultimately lower the amount available to the State Board of Education from the Permanent School Fund. This proposal is generally seen as a way to increase public school funding without raising taxes, opposed by interests that believe that increased funding does not produce better results in the public education system.

#8 would create the flood infrastructure fund to assist with building infrastructure for drainage, flood prevention and flood control projects to address needs of cities and counties to prepare for and recover from major disasters such as Hurricane Harvey. The Legislature has already approved using $793 billion from the Rainy Day Fund for this purpose if the constitutional amendment is approved. Opponents claim that sufficient funds are already available from the federal government and the state, and object to using the Rainy Day Fund for a continuing (rather than a one-time emergency) purpose.

#9 would favor the precious metal depository industry by exempting gold and other precious metals in the care of Texas depositories from property tax. The argument of supporters that this amendment would make Texas depositories more competitive with depositories in other states is not persuasive, since these depositories are income-producing private enterprises.

#10 would allow the transfer of a law enforcement animal to a qualified caretaker (typically the handler they live with) upon retirement without charge. There is no organized opposition to this amendment.