TEXAS — There are two months left before Texans go to the polls to cast ballots for a number of statewide and local elections on Nov. 2, 2021. In addition to municipal and local ballot measures, the November election will also ask voters to decide on several district school board seats, city councils and mayoral races.
Every Texan will have a chance to decide on eight amendments to the Texas Constitution, addressing issues of eligibility of judicial candidates, homestead tax exemptions for surviving spouses and ballot measures proposed in response to pandemic-related restrictions on worship services and nursing homes.
The proposed constitutional amendments may seem complicated and easy to ignore. But don’t underestimate the power of a ballot measure in Texas: In the past 25 years, Lone Star State voters have approved 91% of the 169 of the constitutional amendments that appeared on statewide ballots.
Here’s a brief look at the proposed amendments on the Nov. 2, 2021 ballot.
Proposition 1: Authorize Charitable Raffles at Rodeo Venues Amendment
Imagine your favorite professional sports team has a charitable foundation. Now, imagine that that foundation would like to run a raffle at a Texas rodeo venue to raise charitable funds to support its causes. Voting yes on this proposition would amend the state constitution to allow this raffle to go ahead. It would also allow any organization sanctioned by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association or the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association to conduct charitable raffles at rodeo venues.
Currently, the law allows professional sports team charitable foundations to hold raffles at games. The amendment proposes allowing them to add rodeos to those venue options.
This proposed amendment came out of a bill sponsored by State House Rep. Charlie Green, R-Fort Worth. The bill passed in both chambers of the Texas Legislature in the regular session with the required two-thirds of a supermajority in order to get it on the ballot as a proposed constitutional amendment.
Proposition 2: Authorize Counties to Issue Infrastructure Bonds in Blighted Areas Amendment
When counties want to improve areas designated as “blighted,” they often need to find additional funds to do so. This amendment, if approved by voters, would authorize counties to issue bonds to fund the development of transportation and infrastructure projects in such blighted areas.
Incorporated cities and towns have been able to issue bonds for the same purpose since the idea was approved by voters in 1981. But counties were left out of the funding method for development projects, which this amendment seeks to rectify.
If passed, the amendment would block counties from using bonds to construct, operate, maintain or acquire a toll road. Nor could the county issue the bond for developing a blighted area by pledging more than 65% of the increase in ad valorem tax revenues to repay the bonds.
Like Proposition 1, this proposition is a legislatively referred constitutional amendment.
Proposition 3: Prohibition on Limiting Religious Services or Organizations Amendment
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, churches and worship services across the country were shut down as the United States grappled with how to contain the spread of the disease. In Texas, county judges in some of the state’s largest counties issued executive orders mandating limitations on religious services.
Many Texans were opposed to the limits on religious services and it became a heated debate in the 87th Texas Legislature.
Proposition 3 would prohibit this state or a political subdivision such as a county, city or town from prohibiting or limiting religious services of religious organizations.
This proposition, along with Proposition 6, which would establish a right for residents of nursing or assisted living facilities to designate an essential caregiver, who cannot be prohibited from in-person visitation, are two proposed amendments introduced in response to COVID-19 restrictions enacted at the start of the pandemic in March 2020.
Proposition 4: Changes to Eligibility for Certain Judicial Offices Amendment
This proposed amendment seeks to change the eligibility requirements for a justice of the supreme court, a judge of the court of criminal appeals, a justice of a court of appeals, and a district judge.
Eligibility for justices or judges of the Texas Supreme Court, Court of Criminal Appeals and Court of Appeals would change slightly to require not only that the candidate be a citizen of the United States and Texas, but to be a resident of Texas at the time of election. In addition, whereas the current eligibility requires the candidates to have either been a practicing lawyer licensed in the state of Texas for at least 10 years or a judge of a state court or county court for at least 10 years. The proposed amendment would require that the candidate not have their license revoked, suspended, or subject to a probated suspension during that decade.
Proposition 4 also would tweak current qualifications for judges on the Texas District Court by requiring that they have been a practicing lawyer or a judge of a court in Texas, or both combined, for eight years. Current requirements are set at four years combined.
If it passes, the amendment will impact candidates whose terms would begin on or after Jan. 1, 2025.
Proposition 5: State Commission on Judicial Conduct Authority Over Candidates for Judicial Office Amendment
This amendment would allow the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, which has jurisdiction over more than 4,150 judges in Texas, the authority to accept complaints regarding the conduct of candidates seeking judicial office and discipline candidates in the same way the commission is currently authorized to do so with sitting judges and judicial officeholders.
The author of the legislation behind this proposed amendment, State Rep. Jacey Jetton, R-Richmond, said “there is an inherent unfairness in judicial elections when a candidate runs for judicial office against an incumbent because judges are subject to the Code of Judicial Conduct, but candidates are not.” Passing this amendment “would ensure that judicial elections are fair by granting the State Commission on Judicial Conduct the authority to enforce the same standards for judicial candidates that they do for sitting judges."
Proposition 6: Right to Designated Essential Caregiver Amendment
This is the second proposed amendment that relates to mitigation methods during the COVID-19 pandemic. If passed, the amendment would establish a right for residents of nursing or assisted-living facilities to designate an essential caregiver. That essential caregiver could not be prohibited from making in-person visits to the resident of the facility under any circumstance.
The proposal comes in response to restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic, when the Texas Health and Human Services Commission in March 2020 ordered nursing facilities to prohibit non-essential visitors from entering such facilities.
If passed, the amendment would also give the Texas State Legislature the authority to pass guidelines for facilities to establish visitation policies and procedures for such essential caregivers.
Proposition 7: Homestead Tax Limit for Surviving Spouses of Disabled Individuals Amendment
Disabled individuals in Texas may apply for a $10,000 homestead tax exemption and a limit on school district property taxes, which remains in place every year after approval. But what happens to the surviving spouse’s tax bill after the disabled spouse dies? Proposition 7 seeks to extend the tax exemptions for the surviving spouse if the spouse is 55 years of age or older at the time of the death and remains at the homestead.
Proposition 8: Homestead Tax Exemption for Surviving Spouses of Military Fatally Injured in the Line of Duty Amendment
Like Proposition 7, this proposed constitutional amendment seeks to provide homestead property tax exemptions for surviving spouses.
If approved by voters on Nov. 3, this constitutional amendment would allow the legislature to provide a homestead property tax exemption for the surviving spouse of a military member "killed or fatally injured in the line of duty." This would extend the provisions of the current law, which allows a surviving spouse to receive a total homestead tax exemption if their armed services spouse "is killed in action.”
The last day to register to vote or to make an address change to an existing registration is Oct. 4.