In the history of the great state of Texas, voters have approved 474 amendments to the State Constitution since it was adopted in 1876. On November 5, 2013, nine more proposed amendments will be submitted for voter approval.
The Proposed Constitutional Amendments for 2013 include:
Amendment No. 1 (H.J.R. 62) 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 in action.
Six years ago, Texas voted to amend the Constitution to grant veterans who were rated 100 percent disabled a complete property tax exemption. In the last legislative session, voters extended that exemption to a veteran’s surviving spouse to protect against sudden spikes in property taxes due. This proposition provides various exemptions from property taxation for residence homesteads and limitations on certain property taxes imposed on those homesteads. It would authorize the legislature to grant the surviving spouse of a member of the U.S. armed services who is killed in action a property tax exemption for all or part of the market value of the surviving spouse’s residence homestead if the surviving spouse has not remarried since the service member’s death. It also allows the legislature to provide that if a surviving spouse, who qualifies for and receives such an exemption subsequently qualifies a different property as a residence homestead in an amount equal to the amount of the exemption received for the first homestead in the last year in which the surviving spouse received the exemption for that homestead if the surviving spouse has not remarried since the service member’s death. This proposed amendment applies only to a tax year beginning on, or after, January 1, 2014.
Amendment No. 2 (H.J.R. 79) The constitutional amendment eliminating an obsolete requirement for a State Medical Education Board and a State Medical Education Fund, neither of which is operational.
This proposition, if passed, will repeal a now-obsolete constitutional provision added in 1952 that required the legislature to create a State Medical Education Board, establish a fund, and make appropriations to that fund to be used by that board to provide grants, loans or scholarships directly to medical students who agree to practice medicine in rural areas of the state. The board was not created until 1973. It was soon deemed as “largely ineffective in serving its purpose of attracting physicians to serve in medically underserved communities.” Due to said ineffectiveness, the board has not received state appropriations or issued new loans for more than 20 years and the legislature has enacted other effective methods of attracting physicians to serve in rural Texas. As part of the ongoing effort to remove unnecessary provisions from the Texas Constitution, this proposition removes the requirement for the defunct medical education board and its related fund.
Amendment No. 3 (H.J.R. 133) The constitutional amendment to authorize a political subdivision of this state to extend the number of days that aircraft parts that are exempt from ad valorem taxation due to their location in this state for a temporary period may be located in this state for purposes of qualifying of the tax exemption.
This amendment is to authorize the governing body of a political subdivision, like a municipality, county or school district to extend the date by which aircraft parts held by a business in Texas are exempt from property taxation as “freeport goods” that must be transported outside the state in order to retain tax-exempt status. Through this amendment, a governing body could extend the date that such parts must be exported to not later than the 730th day, or second year, after the date the taxpayer acquired or imported the aircraft parts in the state instead of the 175th days that are currently required by law. It would also authorize the legislature to provide the manner by which a governing body could extend the period of time. It also provides that an extension would apply only to the exemption from property taxation by the political subdivision adopting the extension. This would only apply to a tax year beginning on or after January 1, 2014.
Opponents to this bill think that instead of granting extensions to the freeport exemption, the Legislature should consider eliminating the “antiquated and punitive inventory tax.” Texas is one of the few states that still assesses an inventory tax, which allegedly gives business a competitive disadvantage. Opponents say that Texas could greatly enhance its appeal to many inventory-heavy businesses by repealing this “outdated and unnecessary tax.”
Amendment No. 4 (H.J.R. 24) 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.
Donated homes are a great way to help returning disabled veterans transition to civilian life. This bill would permit the legislature to authorize a new exemption from property taxation or a percentage of the market value of a partially disabled veteran’s residence homestead equal to the percentage of the veteran’s disability if the residence homestead was donated at no cost to the veteran by a charitable organization. The amendment authorizes the legislature to provide additional eligibility requirements for the new exemption and to grant the surviving spouse of a partially disabled veteran, if the veteran died after qualifying for the next exemption, the same tax exemption would apply to the surviving spouse who has not remarried. This amendment cites limitations and restrictions on certain other property tax exemptions for disabled veterans that do not apply to the new exemption. This legislation would ensure that disabled veterans could remain in homes they have received as charitable gifts.
Opponents are requesting sunset provisions that include value thresholds so that families who eventually adjusted and could afford to pay property taxes did so.
Amendment No. 5 (S.J.R. 18) The constitutional amendment to authorize the making of a reverse mortgage loan for the purchase of homestead property and to amend lender disclosures and other requirements in connection with a reverse mortgage loan.
The Texas Constitution allows homeowners to obtain loans and other extensions of credit based on equity in their residence homesteads. This includes reverse mortgages, which are limited to homeowners who are, or whose spouse is, at least 62 years of age. This proposition would allow a reverse mortgage for the purchase of a residence homestead. The borrower would have to occupy the property as a principal residence by a date specified in the contract closing the reverse mortgage. The proposal would require a prospective reverse mortgage borrower and the borrower’s spouse to complete financial counseling before using a reverse mortgage for a home purchase. Supporters say that this would allow seniors to make an informed decision to use a reverse mortgage to purchase a home and give options that would allow them to take advantage of HUD’s HECM program to buy a home closer to family members, downsize to a smaller home or upgrade to a home fitted and designed to meet the needs of aging household members.
Opponents argue that the state’s sharp restrictions on home equity lending sheltered Texans from much of the fallout from the 2008 financial crisis and allowing reverse mortgages for the purchase of homes could make Texans more vulnerable to future financial difficulties. The serious downside of reverse mortgages is not being made clear to voters.
Amendment No. 6 (S.J.R. 1) The constitutional amendment providing for the creation of the State Water Implementation Fund for Texas and the State Water Implementation Revenue Fund for Texas to assist in the financing of priority projects in the state water plan to ensure the availability of adequate water resources.
The state water plan has been designed to meet water needs during times of drought. The purpose of this amendment is to ensure that cities, rural communities, farms, ranches, businesses and industries have enough water should we experience a serious sdrought like that of the 1950s. The 16 regional water-planning groups have worked to create a 50-year regional plan and will refine that plan every five years, monitoring conditions and reassessing assumptions that have been made.
This amendment creates a State Water Implementation Fund and the State Water Implementation Revenue Fund for Texas—special funds in the state treasury outside the general revenue fund to be administered without further appropriation by the Texas Water Development Board and used for the purpose of implementing the state water plan adopted by the board.
This water plan includes the cost of water management strategies and estimates of state financial assistance required to implement them. The regional water planning groups recommend water management strategies that would account for 9 million acre-feet of water, which equals 325,851 gallons, by 2060 if all strategies were implemented. These strategies include 562 unique water supply projects, of which 34 percent would come from conservation and reuse, 17 percent from new major reservoirs and about 34 percent from other surface water supplies.
Opponents to the amendment warn that with the money stuck in a dedicated fund, the $2 billion transfer from the Rainy Day Fun would not be an appropriate source for the funding; this could cause a credit downgrade and decrease the state’s ability to deal with revenue shortfalls, natural disasters and school finance case decisions that require additional spending.
Amendment No. 7 (H.J.R. 87) The constitutional amendment authorizing a home-rule municipality to provide in its charter the procedure to fill a vacancy on its governing body for which the unexpired term is 12 months or less.
The Texas Constitution prohibits a city with terms of office between two and four years from filling vacancies by appointment. Cities must fill vacancies by a majority vote during a special election held within 120 days after the vacancy. This amendment would allow home-ruled cities to avoid expensive special elections currently required by the Constitution.
Opponents note that the cost of a special election is a small price to pay to ensure accountability in government.
Amendment No. 8 (H.J.R. 147 and S.J.R. 54) The constitutional amendment repealing Section 7, Article IX, Texas Constitution, which relates to the creation of a hospital district in Hidalgo County.
In 1960 Texas voters approved a constitutional amendment that authorized the Legislature to create special hospital districts in certain counties including one in Hidalgo County at a maximum tax rate of 10 cents per 4100 valuation of taxable property value. Two years later, voters approved an addition to this legislation that provides the creation of a hospital district composed of one or more counties, or all of any part of one for more counties, at a maximum tax rate of 75 cents. Hidalgo County is trying to repeal the original provision limitations that set them at a tax rate of 10 cents per $100 valuation and allow them to create a district with more favorable conditions that are available in other Texas counties.
Opponents feel that this could open the door to an increase in taxes for Hidalgo County property owners with Hidalgo County being able to set the rate as high as 75 cents per $100 property valuation.
Amendment No. 9 (S.J.R. 42) The constitutional amendment relating to expanding the types of sanctions that may be assessed against a judge or justice following a formal proceeding instituted by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct.
Article 5 of the Texas Constitution established the State Commission on Judicial Conduct. This group investigates allegations of misconduct against Texas judges. It can assess sanctions against judges if it finds willful or persistent misconduct or it can recommend removal or retirement for serious misconduct or incapacity. This amendment would authorize the State Commission on Judicial Conduct to issue certain types of private or public sanctions against a judge or justice of a court established by the constitution or created by the legislature. It would also authorize the commission to institute formal proceedings and to issue an order of public censure against or recommend the removal or retirement of the judge or justice, sanctions that are primarily punitive in nature. It expands the sanctions for assessment by the commission following formal proceedings by allowing the commission to issue an order of public admonition, warning, reprimand or requirement that the judge or justice obtain additional training or education, in addition to punitive sanctions. This proposed amendment would only apply to a formal proceeding instituted by the commission on or after January 1, 2014. Supporters say this would give the commission a way to respond to allegations of alleged judicial misconduct investigated through formal, public hearings in order to discipline judges appropriately after all types of investigations into judicial misconduct.
Opponents note that formal proceedings that expose all information, both supporting and refuting an allegation, to media and the public could harm the judiciary system. Exposure to debate over allegations that may turn out to be unsubstantiated or minor could taint the public’s perception of a judge.
Early Voting for Anderson County is being held at the Anderson County Courthouse Annex Building through Nov. 1, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Early voting in Trinity County is being held in Groveton at the Volunteer Fire Department, in Apple Springs at the Volunteer Fire Department and at City Hall in Trinity. Early Voting in Houston County is being held at the Houston County Courthouse.
Information for this article was found in articles compiled by the House Research Organization and the Texas Legislative Council on the proposed constitutional amendments in Texas.