Constitutional amendments

On Nov. 8, Texas citizens will once again be asked to go to the polls and write a constitution. It's our answer to Californian initiative and referendum system – rather than trust our elected representatives to do their jobs, we choose usually arcane but occasionally hot-button issues (e.g., "same-sex marriage") to fuss over mightily and a Committee of the Whole Citizenry to attempt to enact laws – worse, constitutional provisions – more rationally reserved to the people elected to debate public questions, sort out the details, and act responsibly. The Chronicle is generally disposed, therefore, to recommend against any and all amendments, as a silly and fruitless way to run a democratic republic. But we always strain mightily to find an amendment or two we can recommend to those of our readers who enjoy such fine distinction. We strained again this year – but alas, could find not one among the nine offered propositions worth recommending to voters of sound mind and reasonable presumptions. In truth, we only feel strongly about Proposition 2, a disgrace to a free people and an abomination to fair men and women everywhere. Please turn out against Proposition 2 – and otherwise, consider these considered recommendations on the remainder, as you will. – The Chronicle Editorial Board

Proposition 1: NO.

"The constitutional amendment creating the Texas rail relocation and improvement fund and authorizing grants of money and issuance of obligations for financing the relocation, rehabilitation, and expansion of rail facilities." The "Texas Rail Relocation and Improvement Fund" sounds just "TERRIF!" – like something the River City Citizens' Auxiliary might put together on a volunteer basis, underwritten by bake sales and lemonade stands. Alas, it's yet another gesture by the state to underwrite the expenses (via bonding authority) of private industry – in this case, the relocation of major rail lines that are either getting crowded by urban growth (e.g., the MoPac) or else figure in Gov. Perry's grandiose plans for the Trans-Texas Corridor (or both). We might be more interested in such notions if the public ever received an equity interest for our massive investments – somehow that's an idea whose time has not yet come. In that case, we say let the railroads pay their own way.

Proposition 2: NO!

"The constitutional amendment providing that marriage in this state consists only of the union of one man and one woman and prohibiting this state or a political subdivision of this state from creating or recognizing any legal status identical or similar to marriage." This is the most outrageous proposition on the ballot, the most direct assault on human rights and privacy rights, and the most blatant attempt to write bigotry into the Texas Constitution since the Civil War. It's also totally unnecessary as a legal matter and goes beyond "defining" marriage to outlawing civil unions as well as threatening the contractual and legal rights already represented in domestic partnerships and even common law marriages. We could wax apoplectic against official pandering and gay-bashing at great length, but we expect regular Chronicle readers are largely in agreement in opposing this ridiculous amendment. Unfortunately, it's not enough to despise it in private – we need every one of you, and all your friends and relatives, to get out on Election Day (or before) and vote to prevent the state of Texas from joining this march to take part in modern History of Infamy.

Proposition 3: NO.

"The constitutional amendment clarifying that certain economic development programs do not constitute a debt." Proposition 3 actually has a local hook – Save Our Springs Alliance won a lawsuit against the Village of Bee Caves to stop the open-ended municipal underwriting of an ecologically (and financially) dubious shopping center that would bind future village governments to subsidize a private developer without even a mechanism or fund established to do so. The court's ruling is specific and the case is on appeal, but the Lege is so hot and bothered about any interference in "economic development" (i.e., public subsidy of private profit) that it wants voters to ratify any and all "380 agreements" (so named from a section of the Local Government Code) without considering the fine print. Moreover, the ballot language is so vague as to constitute an insolent joke on the citizens, and should be rejected for that alone.

Proposition 4: NO.

"The constitutional amendment authorizing the denial of bail to a criminal defendant who violates a condition of the defendant's release pending trial." This is a solution in search of a problem, and again drafted in such vague language that even those who might support it should pause – just what "conditions" does it have in mind and how precisely is such a denial authorized? Supporters claim there are certain felons who just can't be relied on to honor their bail commitments and that some pose a "danger to the community." Even if occasionally true, there are other ways of dealing judicially or legislatively with the problem than by writing yet more specific legal exemptions into the state constitution. A simple one is assessing a higher bail – not denying altogether such a basic protection against unjust imprisonment.

Proposition 5: NO.

"The constitutional amendment allowing the legislature to define rates of interest for commercial loans." The Lege is worried that poor Texas bankers are not able to charge more than 10% interest (currently defined as usury) on commercial loans, as they can in 46 other states. The commercial minimums in the bill enabling this amendment would be set at $7 million for real property and $500,000 for other commercial loans, thereby selling the amendment as aimed only at "sophisticated commercial borrowers." And if you buy that, we've got some lakefront property in Levelland we'd like you to take a loan on. This is a foot-in-the-door amendment to give the banks whatever they want and undermine the anti-usury limits altogether. Just the flat notion of "allowing the legislature to define rates of interest" calls up a cloud of unknowing and suspicion, and makes us suggest throwing some sand in these particular gears.

Proposition 6: NO.

"The constitutional amendment to include one additional public member and a constitutional county court judge in the membership of the State Commission on Judicial Conduct." The ballot language doesn't say that the amendment would also eliminate geographic representation on the commission, thereby both misleading the voters and in theory allowing the greater packing of the commission. In truth, it probably doesn't matter one whit whether the commission has 11 or 13 members, since judges virtually have to commit blatant public felonies or be barking insane to be subject to disciplinary action; we doubt seriously that adding a couple of commissioners will do much about that institutional problem. Choose your quorum.

Propositional 7: NO.

"The constitutional amendment authorizing line-of-credit advances under a reverse mortgage." Like Proposition 5, this is a gift to the bankers under the guise of helping creditors, in this case retired homeowners (over 62) whose only asset is their home and who will be wanting to borrow against it on the uneasy gamble that they'll die before the equity entirely runs out. Reverse mortgages (borrowing against the whole value) are already legalized in Texas (2003). This amendment would create "lines of credit" to draw down smaller loan advances that often look reasonable but can quickly accumulate into heavy debt burdens – a circumstance ripe for abuse by unscrupulous lenders and an invitation to penury for unsophisticated or desperate borrowers. Why make it easier to fleece small-home owners?

Proposition 8: NO.

"The constitutional amendment providing for the clearing of land titles by relinquishing and releasing any state claim to sovereign ownership or title to interest in certain land in Upshur County and in Smith County." Title to several thousand acres in the two counties was under dispute because of apparent vacancies in land surveys stretching back more than 100 years. The General Land Office has already relinquished claim to the bulk of the land (in Upshur Co.), but another 950 acres (in Smith Co.) remain under dispute and in court. The problem is that should the state simply clear the titles (as the amendment proposes), the Permanent School Fund could lose rights to millions in potential mineral revenue (not exactly chickenfeed these days). While there has been much hysteria about property rights, if the surveys are wrong you in fact don't own the property; the case is still pending and should be litigated, and the constitution shouldn't be a handy bludgeon to settle complicated land disputes.

Proposition 9: NO.

"The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to provide for a six-year term for a board member of a regional mobility authority." This proposition also has a local hook, one tangent in the ongoing battle over Central Texas toll roads. The Lege allowed six-year terms for regional mobility authorities, but a successful lawsuit by anti-toll warriors People for Efficient Transportation won a ruling that the constitution prohibited terms of more than two years. This seemingly technical dispute – heated because of the fiery toll issue – turns on whether voters think, for commissioners charged with supervising massive transportation projects, two years is too short or six too long. On balance, we think both, and that a reasonable length should be four years (coinciding with county commissioners, who appoint RMA commissioners), but that in any case, the only way for voters to voice their seemingly general opposition to tolls is to vote against this amendment and Proposition 1 (the railroad subsidy amendment). Moreover, once again: What is this doing in the state constitution? end story


Early voting in Travis Co. for the Nov. 8 joint special elections starts Monday, Oct. 24, and runs through Friday, Nov. 4.

All locations, except malls and mobile voting sites, are open Monday-Saturday, 7am-7pm, and Sunday, noon-6pm. Northcross and Highland Malls are open Monday-Saturday, 9am-8pm, and Sunday, noon-6pm.

For mobile voting times and locations, call 238-VOTE or see www.traviscountyelections.org.


Travis Co. Tax Office, 5501 Airport Blvd.

Travis Co. Courthouse, 1000 Guadalupe

Fiesta Mart, 3909 N. I-35

University of Texas, UGL lobby (West Mall, UT Campus)

Randalls, 1500 W. 35th


Highland Mall, 6001 Airport Blvd. (lower level, by JCPenney)

Randalls, 1700 W. Parmer at Metric Boulevard

Northcross Mall, 2525 W. Anderson


Albertsons, 11331 N. Lamar*

County Tax Office, Pflugerville, 15822 Foothill Farms Loop


Randalls, 10900-D Research at Braker Lane

HEB, 7301 FM 620 N.*


HEB, 2400 S. Congress*

Randalls, 2025 W. Ben White at Manchaca


Albertsons, 1819 S. Pleasant Valley*

Albertsons, 5510 S. I-35 at Stassney


Randalls, 6600 S. Mopac at William Cannon

Randalls, 9911 Brodie at Slaughter


H-E-B, 2701 E. Seventh*

Northeast Health Center, 7112 Ed Bluestein Ste. 155 (Springdale Shopping Center)


Randalls, 3300 Bee Caves Rd.

Randalls, 2303 RR 620 S.

* temporary building in parking lot

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