November’s election ballot is packed with lots of local items – from city council races to school bonds – but there are also seven proposals to amend the Texas Constitution.
Most of the time these constitutional amendments are added to the November ballot immediately after a legislative session, but these elections generally have extremely low voter turnout. You see, unlike in a presidential election, where almost 60 percent of the state’s registered voters head to the polls, or in a governor’s race, where about 35 percent of registered voters do, constitutional elections often bring out less than 10 percent.
Nine times out of 10, the constitutional propositions appear inconsequential or boring or both. But considering the fact that once an amendment is passed it’s extremely hard to get it off the books, voters might want to take a few minutes to read up on them – and then another few minutes to go out and vote.
So, here’s a rundown of what’s on the ballot and what each amendment would do. (And thanks to the League of Women Voters for providing some analysis.)
Ballot language: "The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to provide for an exemption from ad valorem taxation of part of the market value of the residence homestead of a partially disabled veteran or the surviving spouse of a partially disabled veteran if the residence homestead was donated to the disabled veteran by a charitable organization for less than the market value of the residence homestead and harmonizing certain related provisions of the Texas Constitution.
Translation: The amendment would lower property taxes for disabled veterans and their families.
What? The Texas Legislature has been carving out a handful of property tax exemptions over the last few years. This one is actually a bit of a technical correction from a previous attempt to cut property taxes for disabled veterans and their families. No one at the Legislature is really opposed to this, but some people have raised concerns about the efforts to chip away at the state’s tax base through granting these exemptions.
Ballot language: "The constitutional amendment to establish a lower amount for expenses that can be charged to a borrower and removing certain financing expense limitations for a home equity loan, establishing certain authorized lenders to make a home equity loan, changing certain options for the refinancing of home equity loans, changing the threshold for an advance of a home equity line of credit, and allowing home equity loans on agricultural homesteads."
Translation: The amendment would make it easier for homeowners to access the equity built up in their property.
What? Texas has had some of the more strict requirements for home equity loans in the country. This amendment makes it easier to get a loan. Those opposed say that could increase the number of people defaulting on those loans.
Ballot language: "The constitutional amendment limiting the service of certain officeholders appointed by the governor and confirmed by the senate after the expiration of the person’s term of office."
Translation: You can’t just stay in office forever.
What? The Texas governor has hundreds of committee appointments to make over his or her time in office, and sometimes it’s hard to get around to each one in a timely manner. Current law allows someone in an appointed, unpaid position to remain there until a new governor replaces them. This amendment would set a deadline for leaving the office, which could mean a position goes vacant.
Ballot language: "The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to require a court to provide notice to the attorney general of a challenge to the constitutionality of a state statute and authorizing the legislature to prescribe a waiting period before the court may enter a judgment holding the statute unconstitutional."
Translation: You gonna sue the state? You gotta tell the state.
What? This amendment is actually a cleanup of a previous attempt to amend the Constitution. That earlier attempt was actually deemed unconstitutional. Basically, this says that a court must give the Texas attorney general 45 days' notice before ruling on the constitutionality of a state law. Some people opposed to the amendment don’t like the idea of delaying how quickly a state resident can receive relief from an unconstitutional law.
Ballot language: "The constitutional amendment on professional sports team charitable foundations conducting charitable raffles."
Translation: Let’s go Astros! Let’s go Astros! Oh hey, let’s buy a charitable raffle ticket
What? Voters already passed a constitutional amendment to let 10 professional sports teams hold charitable foundation raffles. This amendment would expand that to more teams. Those opposed simply point out that this would expand gambling in Texas.
Ballot language: "The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to provide for an exemption from ad valorem taxation of all or part of the market value of the residence homestead of the surviving spouse of a first responder who is killed or fatally injured in the line of duty."
Translation: The amendment would provide another property tax exemption, this time for EMS, fire and police.
What? The Texas Legislature has been carving out a handful of property tax exemptions over the last few years. Again no one really opposes this, but some people have raised concerns about the efforts to chip away at the state’s tax base through granting these exemptions.
Ballot language: "The constitutional amendment relating to legislative authority to permit credit unions and other financial institutions to award prizes by lot to promote savings."
Translation: Open a savings account, maybe win a toaster.
What? About a third of Texas households don’t have a savings account. Offering the possibility of winning something just for starting an account could provide an incentive to open an account.
For more information, check out this voter guide by the League of Woman Voters.