Senator Jane Nelson
P.O. Box 12068, State Capitol
Austin, Texas 78711
Tel. (512) 463-0112
Fax (512) 463-0923

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 27, 1997
Contact: Chris Ward
(512) 463-0112

HEARING HELD ON NELSON I&R PROPOSAL

AUSTIN - Hearings began today on a proposal to allow Texas voters a more direct voice in their state government. The Texas Senate State Affairs Committee took public testimony on bills by Senator Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, to enact the citizen lawmaking process known as Initiative & Referendum (I&R). In 1996, Nelson chaired the Senate Interim Committee on I&R which approved the proposal.

"People feel disconnected. Voters are staying away from the polls in droves. Lawmakers must listen to this wake-up call. I&R is the response the public needs to hear," Senator Nelson said.

Initiative and referendum are two complementary powers which enable citizens to act directly on legislation. Initiative allows citizens to propose laws and to adopt or reject them at the polls. Referendum permits citizens to circulate petitions to repeal a law already enacted by the legislature and have the issue placed on the ballot for voter decision.

Over 200 home rule cities in Texas have the I&R process at the local level. Twenty-four states have statewide I&R in some form. Nelson's SJR 6 proposes a constitutional amendment to allow I&R at the statewide level in Texas. SB 713 is the accompanying enabling legislation which will put necessary mechanisms in place.

"The interim committee conducted an extensive study of I&R in other states. Based on their experience, we recommend several safeguards for putting a workable grassroots process in place. We have the model of I&R for the 21st century," Nelson said.

The Senator noted that citizens in I&R states have used the process to keep state government limited and accountable. They have enacted good government reforms like taxpayer rights provisions, term limits, and campaign finance reform.

"We are a government by and for the people. Over 70 percent of Texans tell us they want a stronger voice through I&R. The people are speaking. I hope the Legislature will show that we are listening." Nelson commented.

SJR 6 and SB 713 were left pending in the committee while fiscal notes are being completed. The next opportunity for them to be taken up again is Tuesday, March 4 at 1:30 p.m. in the committee's regularly scheduled meeting.

Facts on SJR 6 - Senator Jane Nelson's proposal for Initiative & Referendum

What is Initiative & Referendum (I&R)?

Initiative and referendum are technically two separate powers. Initiative allows citizens to propose laws and constitutional amendments and to adopt or reject them at the polls. Referendum permits citizens to circulate petitions to repeal a law already enacted by the legislature and have the issue placed on the ballot for voter decision.

The two powers are complementary. They are commonly referred to in the singular as I&R in the interest of clarity.

How Senator Nelson's proposal would work for initiatives:

A petitioner would submit the proposed initiative with a filing fee to the Secretary of State for processing

The proposal would be reviewed by the Legislative Council for proper form and language, and redraft text as necessary with the consent of the petitioner

The Legislative Budget Board would then prepare a fiscal note

After these reviews, the Secretary of State would issue copies of the approved petition to the petitioner

A petitioner would have 365 days to gather the requisite signatures and file the petitions with the Secretary of State for certification.

Statutory initiatives would require the signatures of registered voters equal to at least 4% of the number of votes cast in the last gubernatorial election in at least 2/3rds of the congressional districts as well as statewide

Constitutional initiatives would require signatures of registered voters equal to at least 6% of the number of votes cast in the last gubernatorial election in at least 2/3rds of the congressional districts as well as statewide

Signed initiatives would have to be submitted to the Secretary of State for certification 150 days before general election held in even numbered years

Prior to the election, the petitioner shall conduct a public hearing in Austin to allow interested persons to comment

And the Attorney General shall issue an advisory opinion as to the constitutionality of the initiative

A proposed statutory initiative would take effect according to its terms if approved by a simple majority

A proposed initiative amending the state constitution would have to be approved by a 60% super-majority

And for a referendum:

Referendum would extend to any bill enacted by the Legislature

A petitioner would submit a written request to the Secretary of State with a filing fee within 180 days after adjournment of the session

The petitions would have to be signed by registered voters equal to at least 4% of the number of votes cast for governor in the most recent election in at least 2/3rds of the congressional districts as well as statewide

The petitioner would have 180 days after the issuance of the petitions to gather the requisite signatures and file the petitions with the Secretary of State for certification

Certified initiatives would be submitted to the voters the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November on or after the 45th day after the date of the petition was submitted to the Secretary for certification

If the referendum is approved by a majority, the repeal would be effective immediately whether or not the law took effect before the date of the election

The resolution also provides that the Legislature may enact legislation to facilitate the implementation of the resolution. This enabling legislation is filed as SB 713.

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