(Voters know) that any document that you have to amend 20 times
every other year is broke. It's sort of a Texas tragedy, actually, that
we can't seem to come to grips with the fact that we need a new basic
document going into the next century and the next millenium.
-- Senator Bill Ratliff (R-Mount Pleasant)*
During the 1999 Texas legislative session Senator Ratliff lent his
support to the redrafted Texas constitution proposed by Rep. Rob Junell
(D-San Angelo), the full text of which may be viewed in the last tab of this presentation.
This proposal, originally a class project of students in a government
course at Angelo State University, would have considerably shortened the
state's Constitution by removing many obsolete provisions. Among its
more important features, Junell's proposal would have:
- preserved the current Constitution's Bill of Rights;
- provided longer legislative terms and better pay along with term limits;
- centralized power in the plural executive, giving the Governor a cabinet, broader appointive powers, greater authority over the executive branch; and
- replaced partisan election of judges with a form of the Missouri plan
and consolidated into one the two state high courts.
But Rep. Junell's draft and the larger idea of constitutional revision were met with the legislative equivalent of stony silence: "Died in Committee."
Meanwhile, what's broke needs fixing again and again, but few care for
the work. For example, in 1999 only 6.7 percent of eligible voters turned out for the
special constitutional election. At this level of turnout, the simple majority required to ratify proposed amendments was just 3.4 percent of eligible voters. Thirteen of seventeen proposed amendments passed that year. In 2001 a majority of the 5.6 percent of
eligible voters who turned out ratified all twenty proposed amendments.
Two years later in 2003 9.3 percent of eligible voters turned out,
ratifying all of the twenty-two proposed amendments.
Many proposed constitutional changes involve small, obscure issues. For
example, on the 2003 ballot, Proposition 2, which passed with more than 62
percent of the vote, amended the Constitution to "establish a two-year
period for the redemption of a mineral interest sold for unpaid ad
valorem taxes at a tax sale." Huh? Another example, Proposition 22 (supported by 78
percent), authorized "a current or retired faculty member of a public
college or university to receive compensation for service on the
governing body of a water district."
Despite neutral-sounding and opaque language, some changes have more
significant implications. In 2003, for example, Proposition 6
"permitting refinancing of a home equity loan with a reverse mortgage"
passed with 71 percent of the vote. Financial institutions in Texas got
a new multi-billion dollar market in home equity loans. Homeowners got
greater access to their home's cash value, but gave up some protection
against foreclosure on their homes. Similarly, interest groups spent millions on campaigns for
and against Proposition 12 "concerning civil lawsuits against doctors
and health care providers, and other actions, authorizing the
legislature to determine limitations on non-economic damages." The proposition, which passed
with 51 percent of the vote, paved the way for legislation limiting
compensation for pain and suffering awarded in civil lawsuits.
The next two tabs contain a full listing of amendments in 2001 and 2003.
In 2005, the Legislature proposed nine more amendments. The public ratified seven.
It's a sure bet that 2007 will bring yet more constitutional patchwork.