Texas Constitutional Amendments

Beginning Oct. 18 and ending Nov. 2, Texas voters will consider adding eight amendments to the Texas Constitution. Between 1876 and 2019, Texas voters amended the Constitution 507 times. These eight newly proposed amendments passed both the state House and Senate by at least a two-thirds majority as joint resolutions (SJR or HJR.) Now it’s up to citizens in Texas to have the final word on whether they will be adopted.

IMPORTANT ELECTION DATES & INFO

Below you’ll find our quick explanations and how we think Texans should vote on each amendment.

Proposition 1 (HJR 143) — Vote Yes

“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.”

Other professional sports associations already have the ability to conduct charitable raffles. The bill’s author states that proceeds go toward projects like youth sports and scholarships. The resolution passed unanimously in the House and 28-2 in the Senate.

Proposition 2 (HJR 99) — Vote Yes

“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.”

Cities already have the ability to conduct such development to aid in improving blighted areas and transportation. HJR contains the important protection to prevent money spent under this law to finance the construction, operation, maintenance or acquisition of rights -of-way for toll roads. The resolution with Senate amendments passed the House 126-13. The resolution passed the Senate 27 yeas, 4 nays.

Proposition 3 (SJR 27) — Vote No

“The constitutional amendment to prohibit this state or a political subdivision of this state from prohibiting or limiting religious services of religious organizations.”

This bill is a reaction to the restrictions put in place by the governor and some county and city governments in attempts to halt the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic. These restrictions included requiring religious services to be held remotely or limited the number of people who could attend at the same time. Similar restrictions directed businesses, schools, medical facilities, public transit and government offices. 

Proposition 3 would prevent the governor, cities and counties from taking a full range of measures to save lives and prevent disease during natural disasters like pandemics, hurricanes, floods and wildfires. No faith group should have an unqualified right to spread a communicable disease. 

Proposition 3 would add a new section to Article 1 of the Texas Constitution, called the Texas Bill of Rights, that would prohibit state or local governments from prohibiting or limiting religious services. This amendment is not necessary to protect religious freedom. Together with the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, the “Texas Bill of Rights” and existing law already provide robust protection of religious freedom. The resolution passed the House with 108 yeas, 33 nays and three present, not voting. It passed the Senate with 28 yeas and 2 nays.

Proposition 4 (SJR 47)  — Vote No

“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.”

This one is a bit complicated. Current provisions of Proposition 4 that apply to the three top layers of civil and criminal courts in the state, candidates for justices of the supreme court, justices of the court of criminal appeals and justices of regional courts of appeals include:

  • They must have been a practicing lawyer for at least 10 years or a practicing lawyer and judge of a court of record for a combined total of at least 10 years. (Proposition 4 defines a “court of record” as a state court or county court created by the Legislature.)
  • They must have been licensed in the state of Texas for at least 10 years
  • During the 10-year period, a candidate’s license to practice law may not have been revoked or suspended.

Candidates for state district judge also face stricter requirements under Proposition 4. Currently, state district judges must not only be U.S. citizens, they must also be licensed to practice law in Texas and have been a practicing lawyer for four years or served a combined four years as a practicing lawyer and judge of a Texas court. If voters pass Proposition 4, candidates must also be a Texas resident and the four-year practice requirement will double to eight years. Their license to practice law must not have been revoked or suspended.

Texas recently lost a progressive judgeship to a candidate who’s license had previously been suspended, however we tend to agree with the Austin Chronicle who said:

“When people in power are unhappy with the choices made by voters, they do stuff like this, which would make it substantially harder for younger, more diverse, and dare we say more progressive lawyers to become judges in Texas. The need for more stringent qualifications wasn’t evident to the state’s GOP elites (which include many wack jobs who were nonetheless elevated to judicial benches) until they started losing court elections en masse to Democratic slates in the urban counties. Now it’s a crisis. You get the picture.”

Overall – we think it’s best to vote no on this one.

Proposition 5 (HJR 165) — Vote No

“The constitutional amendment providing additional powers to the State Commission on Judicial Conduct with respect to candidates for judicial office.”

Currently sitting judges and justices are subject to the Code of Judicial Conduct, but candidates for judicial office are not. This proposition hopes to provide for a more level playing field for incumbents and challengers and add a layer of accountability and transparency to judicial elections. 

However, as above, we tend to agree with the Austin Chronicle’s view:

“This is another attempt to game judicial elections. In the abstract, it would be good if the state’s legal institutions, such as the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, had a more useful and visible role to play in helping local voters decide these very low-information races. In practice, this is a recipe for chaos and mischief designed to give rival campaigns a chance to go negative without real consequence, much the same way that complaints to the Texas Ethics Commission are filed now. We can live without it.”

Proposition 6 (SJR 19) — Vote Yes

“The constitutional amendment establishing a right for residents of certain facilities to designate an essential caregiver for in-person visitation.”

This proposed amendment also arises from experience during the COVID-19 Pandemic. It would allow a resident of long-term care, skilled nursing and other group residential care facilities to designate one essential caregiver who could visit the resident. This would become the resident’s constitutional right. However, the Legislature may provide guidelines for caregiver visitation policies and procedures for the safety and health of residents and staff. 

SJR 19 passed the House with 142 yeas and one nay. It passed the Senate with 30 yeas and one nay.

Proposition 7 (HJR 125) — Vote Yes

“The constitutional amendment to allow the surviving spouse of a person who is disabled to receive a limitation on the school district ad valorem tax on the spouse’s residence homestead if the spouse is 55 years of age or older at the time of the person’s death.”

This is a humane and necessary amendment. It could have been made a better bill by eliminating the 55-year-old surviving spouse requirement and extending the limitation to children who moved into the home and served as caregivers for extended periods.

Proposition 8 (SJR 35) — Vote Yes

“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.”

There is a good argument about the intentions of these amendments, again from the Austin Chronicle:

“These are both tweaks to existing state law regarding what property tax homestead exemptions can continue to be claimed by the surviving spouse of a deceased owner. Prop 7 applies when the owner was disabled (lowering the surviving spouse’s age of eligibility to 55), Prop 8 to service members killed in the line of duty (as opposed to “in combat” as current law reads). To support them in good faith, one must support the exemptions themselves, which we do not. We are all for making it easier for taxing entities in Texas to account for personal hardship; we do not think that linking favorable tax treatment to moralistic virtue signaling is the way to go. Our democracy is in crisis precisely because the people who run this place want to preserve the benefits of good government for whom they deem the right kind of people; this is more of that, and it should be rejected.”

Ultimately, though, we think it is best to vote yes on both 7 and 8. The intentions may be moralistic, but the outcome would be a net positive for those affected.