Today’s post is for Texans. We have seven propositions on the November ballot—and almost nothing else in this off-year election. Propositions on the ballot are for altering the Texas Constitution, which is the basic law of the state—much more specific and inclusive than the US Constitution. The way this works is, the proposition goes through the state legislature, as a House Joint Resolution or a Senate Joint Resolution. If it passes both houses, it goes before the people during the election following the legislative session—so, November elections during odd-numbered years.
|The sample ballot for my precinct,|
only propositions and school board races.
Sometimes the legal language makes it challenging to know how to vote, if you see it for the first time in the voting booth. So I’m offering some background today.
I’ll be providing the legislative information; you can use this to look up the actual bill on the Texas Legislature site online, and to see how the vote went. Then I’ll include the ballot language, followed by the Explanatory Statement provided by the Secretary of State. Plus, I’ll add an explanation from my son Political Sphere, who, as a lawyer, understands legal language better than I do
If you’re still looking for more information on any of these propositions, you might want to refer to the analyses by the Texas Legislative Council, which includes a summary of comments by proponents and opponents: fullversion, condensed version.
I hope this helps all of us make an informed decision on each issue.
Bill Number: HJR 21
Bill Author: Bell House Vote: 143-0 (3 Present, Not Voting); Senate Vote: 31-0
Ballot Language: "The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to provide for an exemption from ad valorem taxation of part of the market value of the residence homestead of a partially disabled veteran or the surviving spouse of a partially disabled veteran if the residence homestead was donated to the disabled veteran by a charitable organization for less than the market value of the residence homestead and harmonizing certain related provisions of the Texas Constitution."
Explanatory Statement: HJR 21 proposes a constitutional amendment that would permit the Texas legislature to expand the circumstances under which a partially disabled veteran or their spouse may qualify for an exemption from ad valorem taxation of part of the market value of the veteran’s residence homestead. Currently, the Texas legislature may provide that a partially disabled veteran or their spouse is entitled to an exemption from ad valorem taxation of a percentage of the market value of the disabled veteran’s residence homestead only if the residence homestead was donated to the disabled veteran by a charitable organization at no cost to the veteran. The amendment would allow the Texas legislature to provide that the exemption also may be taken when the residence homestead was donated, sold, or transferred to the disabled veteran by a charitable organization for less than the market value of the residence homestead. The amendment also harmonizes certain related provisions of the Texas Constitution.
Political Sphere’s Assessment: This is a simple amendment which amends a provision providing a specific exemption to partially disabled veterans, adding an additional requirement to qualify for the exemption that they receive the real estate from at less than market value.
Honestly, it looks like a lot of things have to go right already to qualify for this particular exemption: you have to be a veteran; you have to be disabled, but you cannot be designated as 100% disabled; you have to have the property donated to you, and the donor must be a charitable organization. So an additional requirement that it also be donated for less than market value is not a significant change, and I have no particular opinion for or against.
Bill Number: SJR 60
Bill Author: Hancock House Votes: 143-0 (2 Present, Not Voting); Senate Votes: 30-0 (1 Absent)
Ballot Language: "The constitutional amendment to establish a lower amount for expenses that can be charged to a borrower and removing certain financing expense limitations for a home equity loan, establishing certain authorized lenders to make a home equity loan, changing certain options for the refinancing of home equity loans, changing the threshold for an advance of a home equity line of credit, and allowing home equity loans on agricultural homesteads."
Explanatory Statement: SJR 60 proposes a constitutional amendment to require that certain conditions be met for the refinancing of a home equity loan to be secured by a voluntary lien on a homestead. The amendment also would: redefine what is excluded in the calculation of the cap on fees associated with a home equity loan, lower the cap from 3% to 2% of the original principal amount of the extension of credit, and specify that such fees are in addition to any bona fide discount points used to buy down the interest rate. The amendment would further specify the list of authorized lenders to make home equity loans, change the threshold for an advance of a home equity line of credit, allow agricultural property owners to acquire home equity loans, and update technical terminology in the Texas Constitution. The amendment would be effective on January 1, 2018, and applicable only to a home equity loan made or refinanced on or after that date.
Political Sphere’s Assessment: This is a very convoluted amendment to a very convoluted section of the constitution. The bill itself spans 20 pages (SJR 60). The section of the constitution deals with homestead protections against forced sale (foreclosure). It adds, to the liens homesteads are protected against forced sale, an extension of credit that includes bona fide points toward the rate. It also takes away protection against forced sale of loans on homesteads with agriculture exemptions. There are several other changes. There are definitely some positive changes, but this whole section should probably be pared down. As it stands now, it probably adds to quite a bit of paperwork on the part of mortgage and lending companies to ensure that they can foreclose on the property. Lending companies are never going to agree to a loan that they will not be able to foreclose on if you fail to pay.
Bill Number: SJR 34
Bill Author: Birdwell House Votes: 142-4 (Craddick, Isaac, Murr, and Raney voted Nay) (2 Present, Not Voting); Senate Vote: 31-0
Ballot Language: "The constitutional amendment limiting the service of certain officeholders appointed by the governor and confirmed by the senate after the expiration of the person's term of office."
Explanatory Statement: SJR 34 proposes a constitutional amendment that would prevent certain office holders from serving indefinitely beyond the expiration of their term. Office holders who are appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate and receive no salary would only be able to serve until the last day of the first regular session of the Texas legislature that begins after their term expires.
Political Sphere’s Assessment: The first thing this amendment does is fix a language issue from a previous constitutional amendment. Then it fixes a functionality problem of that same amendment. The constitution previously terminated all officers “within” the state upon the completion of the Governor’s term. It now terminates all officers “of” the state upon the completion of the Governor’s term, unless their position requires advice and consent of the Senate, in which case they will continue until the first day of the legislature. The first change prevents reading the section to mean that local officials terms also end upon completion of the Governor’s term. The second takes away the gap of leadership that currently exists. I am in favor of this amendment.
Bill Number: SJR 6
Bill Author: Zaffirini House Votes: 136-9 (Anchia, Cain, Collier, Cook, Israel, Rinaldi, Stickland, Tinderholt, and Wu voted Nay); Senate Vote: 30-1 (Hall voted Nay)
Ballot Language: "The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to require a court to provide notice to the attorney general of a challenge to the constitutionality of a state statute and authorizing the legislature to prescribe a waiting period before the court may enter a judgment holding the statute unconstitutional."
Explanatory Statement: SJR 6 proposes a constitutional amendment that would allow the Texas legislature to require any court that is hearing a challenge to the constitutionality of a state statute to notify the attorney general of that challenge, if the party raising the challenge notifies the court that the party is challenging the constitutionality of such statute. Additionally, the amendment would allow the Texas legislature to set a period of not more than 45 days following the notification to the attorney general that the court must wait before rendering a judgment that a state statute is unconstitutional.
Political Sphere’s Assessment: This amendment prohibits courts from ruling that any law is unconstitutional without first notifying the AG and giving a chance to respond. Obviously, this will only protect the statute in State Courts, not federal, and will only apply to state law, not federal. This was probably done as a reaction to the many federal courts intervening in things like HB2 from the prior session and voter id laws, but will do nothing to those particular suits. However, it does prevent state courts from effectively performing a Scopes monkey trial without allowing the AG’s office an opportunity to develop the best evidence for appeal. I am in favor of this amendment.
Bill Number: HJR 100
Bill Author: Kuempel House Votes: 110-12 (Biedermann, Cain, Isaac, Lang, Leach, Rinaldi, Schaefer, Shaheen, Stickland, Swanson, Tinderholt, and Zedler voted Nay) (2 Present, Not Voting); Senate Votes: 24-6 (Birdwell, Burton, Hall, Hancock, Huffines, Van Taylor voted Nay) (1 Absent)
Ballot Language: "The constitutional amendment on professional sports team charitable foundations conducting charitable raffles."
Explanatory Statement: HJR 100 proposes a constitutional amendment to provide a more detailed definition of “professional sports team” for purposes of their charitable foundations, which the Texas legislature may permit to hold charitable raffles. The amendment also deletes a requirement that an eligible professional sports team charitable foundation permitted by the Texas legislature to hold charitable raffles had to be in existence on January 1, 2016.
Political Sphere’s Assessment: Currently, charitable organizations set up by MLB, MLS, NBA, NFL, and NHL teams may hold charitable raffles, but may only receive cash for those raffle tickets. This amendment expands the sports leagues eligible, and allows to collect funds from debit cards as well as cash. It will probably pass, but since I am generally against gambling, I will likely vote no.
Bill Number: SJR 1
Bill Author: Campbell House Votes: 147-0 (2 Present, Not Voting); Senate Votes: 30-0 (1 Absent)
Ballot Language: "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 first responder who is killed or fatally injured in the line of duty."
Explanatory Statement: SJR 1 proposes a constitutional amendment that would allow the Texas legislature by general law to provide that a surviving spouse of a first responder who is killed or fatally injured in the line of duty is entitled to receive an exemption from ad valorem taxation from all or part of the market value on the surviving spouse’s residence homestead, as long as the surviving spouse has not remarried since the death of the first responder. It would also allow the Texas legislature to provide that the surviving spouse, who qualifies and receives the exemption and then qualifies a different property as the surviving spouse’s residence homestead, receive an exemption from ad valorem taxation of the different homestead in an amount equal to the dollar amount of the exemption of the first homestead for which the exemption was received in the last year in which the surviving spouse received the exemption for that first homestead. Like the initial exemption, this benefit will only remain available if the surviving spouse has not remarried since the death of the first responder. The proposed amendment would apply only to ad valorem taxes imposed for a tax year beginning on or after January 1, 2018.
Political Sphere’s Assessment: This amendment simply allows the legislature to create an exemption for surviving spouses of first responders that die in the line of duty. I will likely vote in favor of this amendment, but I have a mixed opinion, because, while it does allow for additional limits (like limiting the number of years a surviving spouse is eligible), it does not require it. And it allows for the exemption to be up to a 100% exemption. I agree that we should take care of surviving spouses of first responders killed in the line of duty, but we should not expect that they will be unable to get themselves in a better position within a few years of their spouse’s passing.
Bill Number: HJR 37
Bill Author: Johnson, Eric House Votes: 141-0 (1 Present, Not Voting); Senate Votes: 30-1 (Burton voted Nay)
Ballot Language: "The constitutional amendment relating to legislative authority to permit credit unions and other financial institutions to award prizes by lot to promote savings."
Explanatory Statement: HJR 37 proposes a constitutional amendment that would allow the Texas legislature to make an exception to the law regarding the award of certain prizes. Currently, the Texas Constitution requires the Texas legislature to pass laws prohibiting lotteries, raffles, and other programs where the award of gifts is based on luck or chance. The proposed amendment would make an exception to this general rule to allow the Texas legislature to authorize credit unions and other financial institutions to institute programs which, in order to encourage savings, would award prizes based on luck or chance to the credit union’s or financial institution’s customers.
Political Sphere’s Assessment: This is a simple amendment which allows the legislature to authorize financial institutions to have promotional giveaways promoting savings among depositors at the institution. I will probably vote in favor of this amendment.