News Release from Senator Robert Nichols

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 13, 2011
Contact: Alicia Pierce
(512) 463-0103

Texans to vote on 10 amendments to the state Constitution

This fall Texas voters will have the opportunity to vote on 10 proposed amendments to the Texas Constitution.

Sometimes these amendments can be confusing. For example, why does a citizen in East Texas have to approve an amendment only relating to El Paso County? The answer is that the Texas Constitution is strictly written. The state government cannot exercise any authority that is not expressly granted in the state constitution. Unlike the U.S. Constitution, there is no "necessary and proper clause."

This means as Texas government evolves, we must continually come back to the voters for approval. While this sometimes leads to unusual amendments, it seems a small price to pay to make sure state and local governments do not overstep their bounds.

Below is an explanation of the proposed 10 amendments. I hope you find this explanation helpful. If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact my office.

Amendment 1 - Extending property tax exemptions to surviving spouses of fully disabled veterans

In 2007, the Legislature exempted veterans considered totally disabled from paying most property taxes on their homes. This measure was overwhelmingly supported by Texas voters as a way to recognize the sacrifices of these brave men and women. The amendment, however, did not extend this exemption to spouses. Therefore, when a disabled veteran passes away, the surviving spouse faces paying property taxes on their home when the property had previously been exempt. If the surviving spouse moves to a different home, he or she may apply the value of the previous exemption to the new property.

Amendment 2 - Increasing the amount of bonds the Texas Water Development Board may issue

Since 1957 the Texas Constitution has permitted the state to issue bonds to fund water development projects. These loans are used for various programs including loans to local governments for water supply, water quality, flood control and conservation projects. The Water Development board functions primarily as a financing authority, granting loans at more favorable rates than if local entities tried to issue bonds on their own. The amount of bonds issued must be approved by voters. To date, voters have approved more than $4 billion in bonds to be issued. This amendment would allow the Texas Water Development Board to issue bonds so long as its obligation does not exceed $6 billion. The interest and principle are paid by the local governmental entity.

Amendment 3 - Providing for the issuance of general obligation bonds of the State of Texas to fund education loans to students

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board currently has the power to issue and sell bonds in order to make low-interest student loans to Texans pursuing higher education. The state has provided these loans to students since 1965. Currently the Coordinating Board has the authority to issue $125 million in loans. The proposed amendment would allow the Legislature to authorize a higher amount of bonds in order to help meet demand for these student loans. Based on legislation passed during the session, the amount would go from $125 million to $350 million.

Amendment 4 - Authorizing a county to issue bonds or notes to finance the development or redevelopment of an area based on the anticipation of increased property values

This amendment would allow counties to issue bonds in order to finance the improvement or development of an area. The county would finance the loan by committing the increased tax revenue from the improved values of the area. This amendment would provide a tool for counties to finance development projects. It does not provide authority to increase property tax rates.

Amendment 5 - Allowing cities and counties to enter into agreements together without requiring the imposition of a tax or sinking fund

This amendment clarifies that cities and counties may enter into interlocal contracts in order to share services, projects and programs without having to issue a tax or establish a fund related to the shared project. By allowing these entities greater flexibility to establish such agreements, communities can avoid duplication and improve efficiency.

Amendment 6 - Authorizing the General Land Office to distribute revenue from permanent school fund land or other properties to the provide additional funding for public education

The permanent school fund is an endowment established in the Texas Constitution to help fund education in the state. The General Land office manages the states real estate portion of the endowment including land owned by the state, mineral rights, and royalty income from oil, gas, and mineral leases. Currently, revenue gained from the real estate portion of the permanent school fund cannot be distributed to fund education. Instead, it is required to be returned to build up the base of the fund. This amendment would allow revenue from the real estate portion of the endowment to be used to directly fund public education in the state.

Amendment 7 - Allowing conservation and reclamation district in El Paso County to issue bonds supported by property taxes

Only conservation and reclamation districts in counties listed in a specific section of the Texas Constitution may issue bonds based on property taxes. This would add El Paso County to the list. It does not authorize an increase in property taxes. Voters in El Paso County would still have to approve the creation of such a district.

Amendment 8 - Authorizing a property tax incentive for certain lands used in a way to promote water conservation

Land used for agricultural purposes is usually appraised in a different way than commercial and residential land for property purposes. This amendment would allow land used for water conservation to also be appraised by unique standards.

Amendment 9 - Allowing the governor to pardon a person who receives deferred adjudication

Currently the governor has the authority to pardon a person convicted of a crime. The governor, however, may not pardon someone who was charged with a crime but successfully used deferred adjudication to avoid conviction. This amendment would give those who use deferred adjudication the same right to pursue pardon as those actually convicted of a crime.

Amendment 10 - Changing the length of an unexpired term for "resign-to-run"

In 1958 the Texas Constitution was amended to require certain county and district office holders to resign their current position to seek another office if there was more than a year left in their current term. This policy became known as the resign-to-run provision. However, Texas must move its date to file for elected office in order to comply with the federal Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act. This amendment maintains the spirit of the resign-to-run provision by extending the time left by and additional 30 days to account for the change in Texas filing deadlines.

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