What are the Proposed Amendments to the Texas Constitution?


Time to vote again.


The November 2, 2021 election seeks your vote for or against changes to the Texas Constitution proposed by the Legislature and Governor Abbott. Early voting is open until October 29. In Bexar County, visit the elections department online (at https://www.bexar.org/1568/Elections-Department) for voting locations and hours, and for a sample ballot.


Proposition 1 asks you to amend the Constitution to allow the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association and the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association to hold charitable raffles at their rodeos. Our Constitution does not allow the Legislature to take a variety of actions without voter consent, and one of those topics is charitable raffles. In 2017 voters approved a proposition to allow professional sports teams to hold raffles but included only certain sports. Rodeos were not included, and now the Legislature asks you to extend that 2017 change to include rodeos sponsored by these two associations. Please note that the proceeds of the raffles are not necessarily for charity; they can be used to pay for advertising, promotional expenses, and administrative expenses.


Proposition 2, if approved by voters, would allow counties to borrow money for transportation or infrastructure in “blighted” areas. Currently, towns and cities may borrow for those purposes, but county governments may not. All borrowing would be paid with your property taxes, and it shifts the burden for transportation and infrastructure from the state to the counties.


Proposition 3 would prohibit any governmental entity from “prohibiting or limiting” religious services of religious organizations. This is a pandemic related amendment, responding to limitations on gatherings, including gatherings for religious services, when those gatherings threaten public health. Adding it to the Texas Constitution gives religion a special protected status granted to no one else, even when temporary restrictions on large gatherings are necessary to protect the lives and health of fellow citizens. The amendment is so broadly worded that even a fire code limiting the capacity of a building (used for religious services) would be banned. The Editorial Boards of the Express-News, the El Paso Times, the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram, the Houston Chronicle, the Austin Chronicle, and the Austin American-Statesman have all urged a no vote on this proposition.


The Austin-American Statesman commented that “Voters will understandably feel the pull to protect religious freedom, but Prop 3 goes far beyond that, exempting houses of worship from any emergency measures rooted in public safety. We cannot accept that. Texans shouldn’t, either.” The El-Paso times commented that the proposal's “true meaning is to exempt religious organizations from any of the public safety measures that apply to the rest of the community.” And the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram concluded that “… this ban is too broad. … the Legislature should craft a more thoughtful version. Putting it in the Constitution could make that impossible.”


Proposition 4 seeks to impose higher standards on candidates for Judicial office. It fundamentally requires the candidate to be an attorney licensed in Texas, and a citizen of both the US and resident of Texas. Further, a person with a suspended or revoked law license cannot be a candidate. If the candidate is running for Texas Supreme Court or Court of Appeals, they must be licensed for at least 10 years, for a District Court at least 8 years.


Proposition 5 would authorize the State Commission on Judicial Conduct to investigate and discipline candidates for Judgeships in the same manner they can with sitting Judges. This means that during a campaign for office, both would be subject to the same oversight provisions and would operate on equal footing.


Proposition 6 would add a new right to the Constitution: that a resident of a nursing or assisted living facility, and a few other residential care facilities, may designate an “essential caregiver” who cannot be prohibited from in-person visitation. That in-person visitation can, however, be subject to “policies and procedures” set up by the Legislature. This attempts to balance the importance of visitation versus community health risks during times like the Covid pandemic. It further emphasizes that Proposition 3 is unbalanced, as it provides unlimited religious services without exception for community health risks while Proposition 6 does limit an equally fundamental need for in-person visitation for residents of care centers. The newspapers that recommend a “no” vote on Prop 3 take the opposite position on Prop 6. Perhaps if Prop 3 and Prop 6 had the same limits they would both warrant support.


Proposition 7 deals with tax breaks on the homestead. Right now, when a married couple gets a 65+ tax exemption and the older spouse dies, the younger survivor may continue the tax exemption so long as the survivor is at least 55. Prop 7 would extend that same treatment for continuing a disability exemption.


Proposition 8 would create a new homestead property tax exemption for the surviving spouse of a military member who dies in the “line of duty.” The Constitution already provides that tax exemption when the military member dies “in action”. If approved, the surviving spouse would get the tax exemption when their spouse dies in non-combat related service, for example death during a training exercise or a job-related auto accident. Military survivors already receive a “death gratuity” of $100,000 from US taxpayers, regardless of the cause of death during active duty, covering death during training and during on-job travel. The change in Prop 8 is extra help for a military survivor which is not granted to a civilian taxpayer who dies under similar circumstances.


Paul Premack is a Certified Elder Law Attorney for Wills and Trusts, Probate, and Elder Law issues. He is licensed to practice law in Texas and Washington. To contact us, click here.


Column published on October 27, 2021.