Political Science 101: Drafting a New Texas Constitution
(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.
The 2001 Constitutional Election
|Prop.||Ballot Language||% For|
|1||Relinquishing state interest in land in Bastrop County||74.4|
|2||Authorizing bond issuance for access roads to border colonias||61.4|
|3||Authorizing ad valorem tax exemption for raw cocoa and green coffee held in Harris County||51.5|
|4||Increasing the term of office for the fire fighters' pension commissioner||72.1|
|5||Allowing cities to donate used firefighting equipment to foreign countries||71.4|
|6||Requires the governor to call a special session to appoint presidential electors under certain circumstances||62.2|
|7||Authorizing $500 million in bonds for veterans' housing loans and cemeteries||74.7|
|8||General obligation bonds for state agency construction and repair projects||62.5|
|9||Canceling special election if legislative candidate is unopposed||67.6|
|10||Authorizing ad valorem tax exemption for goods in transit||63.0|
|11||Allowing school teachers to receive pay for serving on local government boards||66.5|
|12||Eliminating duplicative and obsolete provisions from the Constitution||76.6|
|13||Allowing school districts to donate old schoolhouses for historic preservation||80.4|
|14||Authorizing ad valorem tax exemption for travel trailers||51.9|
|15||Creating a highway bond fund and allowing state spending on toll roads||67.7|
|16||Shortening the waiting period for home improvement liens and allowing homesteading liens for manufactured homes||58.7|
|17||Settling land-title disputes between the state and private landowners||64.3|
|18||Consolidating and standardizing court fees||81.1|
|19||Authorizing an additional $2 billion in general obligation bonds for water projects||63.8|
|20||Abolish Constable if vacant for reasonable time||79.2|
The 2003 Constitutional Election
|Prop.||Ballot Language||% For|
|1||The constitutional amendment authorizing the Veterans' Land Board to use assets in certain veterans' land and veterans' housing assistance funds to provide veterans homes for the aged or infirm and to make principal, interest, and bond enhancement payments on revenue bonds.||81.5|
|2||The constitutional amendment to establish a two-year period for the redemption of a mineral interest sold for unpaid ad valorem taxes at a tax sale.||62.4|
|3||The constitutional amendment to authorize the legislature to exempt from ad valorem taxation property owned by a religious organization that is leased for use as a school or that is owned with the intent of expanding or constructing a religious facility.||52.9|
|4||The constitutional amendment relating to the provision of parks and recreational facilities by certain conservation and reclamation districts.||56.4|
|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.||62.3|
|6||The constitutional amendment permitting refinancing of a home equity loan with a reverse mortgage.||70.9|
|7||The constitutional amendment to permit a six-person jury in a district court misdemeanor trial.||74.7|
|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.||56.4|
|9||The constitutional amendment relating to the use of income and appreciation of the permanent school fund.||50.3|
|10||The constitutional amendment authorizing municipalities to donate surplus fire-fighting equipment or supplies for the benefit of rural volunteer fire departments.||91.7|
|11||A constitutional amendment to allow the legislature to enact laws authorizing and governing the operation of wineries in this state.||62.4|
|12||The constitutional amendment concerning civil lawsuits against doctors and health care providers, and other actions, authorizing the legislature to determine limitations on non-economic damages.||51.1|
|13||The constitutional amendment to permit counties, cities and towns, and junior college districts to establish an ad valorem tax freeze on residence homesteads of the disabled and of the elderly and their spouses.||81.0|
|14||The constitutional amendment providing for authorization of the issuing of notes or the borrowing of money on a short-term basisby a state transportation agency for transportation-related projects, and the issuance of bonds and other public securities secured by the state highway fund.||61.0|
|15||The constitutional amendment providing that certain benefits under certain local public retirement systems may not be reduced or impaired.||71.5|
|16||The constitutional amendment authorizing a home equity line of credit, providing for administrative interpretation of home equity lending law, and otherwise relating to the making, refinancing, repayment, and enforcement of home equity loans.||65.4|
|17||The constitutional amendment to prohibit an increase in the total amount of school district ad valorem taxes that may be imposed on the residence homestead of a disabled person.||77.7|
|18||The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to permit a person to assume an office of a political subdivision without an election if the person is the only candidate to qualify in an election for that office.||53.1|
|19||The constitutional amendment to repeal the authority of the legislature to provide for the creation of rural fire prevention districts.||58.7|
|20||The constitutional amendment authorizing the issuance of general obligation bonds or notes not to exceed $250 million payable from the general revenues of the state to provide loans to defense-related communities, that will be repaid by the defense-related community, for economic development projects, including projects that enhance the military value of military installations.||56.9|
|21||The constitutional amendment to permit 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.||52.3|
|22||The constitutional amendment authorizing the appointment of a temporary replacement officer to fill a vacancy created when a public officer enters active duty in the United States armed forces.||78.5|
Rep. Rob Junell's draft constitution, HJR 1 (1999)
Click image for full-text PDF of draft constitution.
Source: The Junell draft constitution designated HJR 1 (House Joint Resolution 1) is available from the Texas State Legislature online at http://www.capitol.state.tx.us. It can be located through a search of "Bill Action and Vote History" for the Texas Legislature's 76th (1999) Regular Session. An account of the draft constitution's classroom origins is in Haag, Stefan, Gary Keith, and Rex Peebles. Texas Politics and Government: Ideas, Institutions, and Policies. 3rd ed. New York: Addison Wesley Longman, 2003. pp. 63-5.
The 2001 constitutional election was held November 6, 2001. The vote on Proposition 20 was postponed until November 5, 2002. Complete information about ballot propositions is available from the Legislative Research Library athttp://www.lrl.state.tx.us/legis/constAmends/lrlhome.cfm accessed March 25, 2005. Election results are also available from the Texas Secretary of State at http://www.sos.state.tx.us/elections/voter/2003sepconsamend.shtml accessed March 25, 2005.
The 2003 constitutional election was held September 13, 2003. Complete information about ballot propositions is available from the Legislative
Research Library at http://www.lrl.state.tx.us/legis/constAmends/lrlhome.cfm accessed March 25, 2005. Election results are also available from the Texas Secretary of State at http://www.sos.state.tx.us/elections/voter/2003sepconsamend.shtml accessed March 25, 2005.