Constitutional Amendment Election Information
AUSTIN - This week, I will continue with the analysis of proposed constitutional amendments. The election will be held on September 13, and Texans will vote on 22 proposed amendments to the Texas Constitution. This article focuses on amendments four through eight. The analyses contained in these articles comes from the Texas Legislative Council's "Condensed Analysis of Proposed Constitutional Amendments." To view the entire document, please visit their website at www.tlc.state.tx.us, or feel free to contact my office for a hard copy.
AMENDMENT NO. 4
The constitutional amendment relating to the provision of parks and recreational facilities by certain conservation and reclamation districts.
SUMMARY: The proposed amendment amends Section 59, Article XVI, Texas Constitution, to provide that conservation and reclamation districts have the specific right and duty to develop parks and recreational facilities. The amendment requires the legislature to pass laws concerning the development of parks and recreational facilities by districts. The amendment, without limiting the power to finance parks and recreational facilities that currently exists, provides for the issuance of bonds financed by taxes in districts located completely or partially in a limited number of areas.
ARGUMENTS FOR: The proposed amendment clarifies an area of the law that has been at issue by stating clearly that conservation and reclamation districts may create parks and recreational facilities. The amendment would empower the voters in certain areas to choose to finance area parks and recreational facilities with tax dollars if they feel the need exists. It is proper to place this decision with the affected voters, and restricting this power to certain areas limits it to localities where the greatest need exists. The amendment would allow conservation and reclamation districts to meet the recreational needs of communities whose needs are not being met by the city, town, or county in which they are located. Many citizens live in unincorporated areas not adequately serviced, and authorizing conservation and reclamation districts to improve the civic spaces of a community will improve the quality of life for area residents.
ARGUMENTS AGAINST: There is no reason to allow only districts in the listed areas to use tax dollars to finance parks and recreational facilities while districts elsewhere may not use tax dollars for that purpose. Conservation and reclamation districts should focus on water and conservation issues. Other political subdivisions, such as municipalities and counties, currently have the ability to address parks and recreational needs and are more appropriate entities to satisfy those needs. The creation of some conservation and reclamation districts is initiated by and significantly benefits private developers. Allowing districts to provide parks and recreational facilities and to finance them with tax money creates too much of a risk that the facilities would be provided at public expense to create an amenity that a private developer can use to promote a land development.
AMENDMENT NO. 5
The constitutional amendment to authorize the legislature to exempt from ad valorem taxation travel trailers not held or used for the production of income.
SUMMARY: Section 1(d), Article VIII, Texas Constitution, currently authorizes the legislature to exempt from ad valorem taxes certain tangible personal property but excludes the legislature from exempting tangible personal property structures used or occupied as residential dwellings. The proposed amendment amends Subsection (d) to exclude from being exempt only those structures used or occupied as residential dwellings that are substantially affixed to real estate. The amendment repeals Section 1(j), Article VIII, Texas Constitution, which authorizes the legislature to allow a taxing unit, other than a school district, to exempt travel trailers from ad valorem taxes.
ARGUMENTS FOR: Approval of the proposed amendment will eliminate the mandatory school taxes on travel trailers and provide travel trailers with the same tax treatment as other noncommercial personal property, such as motor vehicles. The exemption will eliminate the current disincentive for consumers in Texas to purchase travel trailers that will not be attached to real property and will also promote tourism and economic development. Imposition of the ad valorem tax on travel trailers by those school districts and other taxing units that elect to tax travel trailers amounts to "double taxation" because the purchaser of a travel trailer is also required to pay sales and use taxes and annual vehicle registration fees on the trailer. In 2001, the legislature and the voters intended to authorize the elimination of ad valorem taxes on travel trailers. Approval of the amendment will authorize the legislature to rectify the unintended effect of the 2001 amendment and end the double tax on travel trailers. Ad valorem taxation of travel trailers is very inefficient, due to the costs of identifying and appraising them and of billing for and collecting the relatively small amount of taxes imposed on each of them. Approval of the amendment will require a school district or other taxing unit that elects to tax travel trailers to bear the full costs of taxation, which are currently borne in large part by the appraisal district.
ARGUMENTS AGAINST: If the proposed amendment is adopted, those school districts and other taxing units that do tax travel trailers will lose the property tax revenue they currently receive from the taxation of travel trailers unless their governing bodies act affirmatively to impose an ad valorem tax on those trailers. To make up any shortfall, those school districts and taxing units may have to impose higher property taxes on other property owners, including persons who own and reside in manufactured homes and other types of homes. A person who resides in a travel trailer, regardless of whether it is affixed to real property, should be required to pay property taxes on the trailer, just like other home owners, including those who reside in manufactured homes. The proposed exemption of travel trailers creates a property tax break for a small group of persons who will no longer pay their fair share of taxes. By requiring a school district or other taxing unit to take affirmative action to tax travel trailers, and imposing all the costs of appraising those travel trailers on a school district or other taxing unit choosing to tax them, the legislature is unfairly discouraging those school districts and other taxing units that have previously taxed travel trailers from continuing to tax them in order to maintain their current tax base.
AMENDMENT NO. 6
The constitutional amendment permitting refinancing of a home equity loan with a reverse mortgage.
SUMMARY: The proposed amendment amends Section 50(f), Article XVI, Texas Constitution, by providing that a home equity loan may be refinanced in a manner that converts the loan into a reverse mortgage. The same change proposed by this amendment is also being proposed, among other constitutional changes, by Proposition 16, which is being submitted to the voters at this election.
ARGUMENT FOR: Reverse mortgages are a popular means for seniors to supplement their income by tapping the equity in their homes. Beginning in 1998, there were several years when home equity loans were available but reverse mortgages were not offered. During this period many persons who would have preferred reverse mortgages obtained home equity loans instead. The proposed amendment would allow those borrowers to convert their existing home equity loans into reverse mortgages.
ARGUMENT AGAINST: Reverse mortgages are not subject to all the extensive safeguards that apply to home equity loans. Elderly persons, who may be more susceptible to unscrupulous or uncaring lending practices, may be victimized by lenders who would convince elderly borrowers under home equity loans to convert those loans to reverse mortgages under terms unfairly favorable to the lender.
AMENDMENT NO. 7
The constitutional amendment to permit a six-person jury in a district court misdemeanor trial.
SUMMARY: The proposed amendment specifies that a district court petit jury hearing a criminal misdemeanor case must consist of six persons. In a conforming change, the amendment also strikes a provision allowing nine members of a district court 12-member jury to render a verdict in a criminal misdemeanor case.
ARGUMENTS FOR: Six-member county court juries are authorized by Article 33.01, Code of Criminal Procedure, to hear criminal misdemeanor cases, and a majority of misdemeanor cases are tried before those six-member juries. However, in some small or rural counties, 12-member district court juries hear criminal misdemeanor cases. Allowing six-member juries in district court criminal misdemeanor trials would bring uniformity to the law. Reducing the number of jurors in criminal misdemeanor cases would save counties time and money without sacrificing the merits of a jury trial.
ARGUMENT AGAINST: Allowing six-member district court jury trials in criminal misdemeanor cases would reduce the procedural protection of a 12-member jury in misdemeanor official misconduct cases. The legislature intended a 12-member jury trial in those cases involving a public official accused of a crime that might lead to the official's removal from office.
AMENDMENT NO. 8
The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to permit a person to take office without an election if the person is the only candidate to qualify in an election for that office.
SUMMARY: The proposed amendment adds Section 13, Article XVI, Texas Constitution, to authorize the legislature to provide by general law that a person may take office without an election if that person is the only candidate to qualify in an election to be held for that office.
ARGUMENTS FOR: By authorizing the legislature to allow an authority holding an election to avoid the expense of time and money to count votes for unopposed candidates, the proposed amendment promotes efficiency in election administration and would help reduce the cost of elections without interfering with anyone's right to vote. If a candidate is unopposed, and no other candidate, including a write-in candidate, is eligible for election to that office, the race is decided before the election occurs. The amendment would permit the legislature to give election officials greater flexibility in ballot preparation, and shorter, simpler ballots will allow the voter to focus on contested races, without having to sort through the unopposed candidates. Shorter ballots will also reduce voter confusion, especially during the implementation of new electronic voting systems.
ARGUMENTS AGAINST: Omitting a candidate from the ballot deprives voters of their right to vote for the candidate of their choice. Those who take the time to vote are exercising their right to endorse the candidates they wish to represent them and validate the candidates' election to public office. The right to vote for a candidate should exist whether or not there is a choice in candidates. The amendment would authorize the legislature to deprive candidates of the opportunity to gain visibility by campaigning and make it more difficult for the voters to know who their elected leaders are or what offices are being filled. The formality of an election is an important part of the democratic process that should not be rendered into a mere technicality.
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