Naked City

Giving Props to the Props

The Texas electorate was in a generous mood last week, as we approved all 22 of the proposed constitutional amendments, including the big tort-reform express train, Proposition 12. This measure declared constitutional the limits passed by the Legislature this spring on noneconomic damage awards in medical-malpractice lawsuits and opens the door to such limits "in other actions" -- the Capitol lobby will be champing at the bit for 2005, to protect corporate defendants from liabilities of all kinds. On the other hand, according to Proposition 12 supporters, doctors will now stampede to practice in the Valley, poor rural areas, and all the 150 or so Texas counties lacking sufficient medical care. If you hold your breath, they will come.

Proposition 12 passed by only 30,000 votes out of nearly 1.5 million cast (51-49%), a much tighter race than first expected for an initiative that purported to promise only nice things for doctors and nurses. An even narrower victory was eked out for Proposition 9, which would allow capital gains from the Permanent School Fund to be spent on schools. It didn't quite say that -- the ballot language, in fact, said nothing meaningful at all -- and perhaps for that reason passed by only 8,044 votes, 50.3- 49.7%. Other squeakers included Proposition 21, which will allow teachers to be paid for service on water boards (52- 48%), and Proposition 3, extending certain property-tax exemptions for "religious groups," which passed only 53-47% -- still enough to motivate a bull market in cargo cults devoted to land speculation.

All the rest of the propositions were pretty much landslides. Voters liked veterans' nursing homes (Proposition 1) by 81%; redeemable mineral interests (Proposition 2) by 62%; six-person juries (Proposition 7) by 75%; and giving surplus equipment to volunteer fire departments (Proposition 10) by a whopping 92%. (Details on the election results are available at the Texas secretary of state Web site, www.sos.state.tx.us/elections.)

Voters in Travis Co. were less compliant, weighing in (for what it's worth) against seven of the propositions, including propositions 3, 9, and 12.

At 12%, the statewide turnout was better than the secretary of state's initial prediction of 9%, but was significantly lower in the major cities, especially Houston, than what might be expected for the more traditional November election date. (Travis Co. turnout was 15%.) Since all the major urban counties voted roundly against Proposition 12, the Legislature's decision to hold the election on Sept. 13 paid off -- but for that, Proposition 12 would likely have failed. Once again, the boys in the owner's box got what they paid for.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

constitutional amendments, Permanent School Fund, Proposition 12

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