In 2021, the following items were on the ballot for the 75044 Zip code, Garland, Dallas County, Texas. They were all propositions for constitutional amendments. These are my votes and opinions on each.
Context: In the screwed-up state government that was established during the post-Civil-War, Reconstruction (which was royally screwed up itself by Lincoln’s successor and probably caused decades of Southern ridicule, poverty, and exacerbated racial tensions that all exist to this day), Texas was ruled by a handful of Northern military officers under martial law. They reorganized the state government in a weird way* that caused the legislature to constantly pass constitutional amendments instead of regular old acts and resolutions, so all the below propositions are for fully-fledged amendments. So, to add to the hundreds of constitutional amendments that are already in existence (and held together with paperclips and scotch tape), we get to vote on eight more below. Hooray.
*Fun Fact: the screwy way that our government was re-established during reconstruction is also why we have random positions with TONS of power that is seemingly unrelated to their seat (see: Texas Railroad Commissioner).
- ) Y — Proposition 1 (HJR 143) What it says: “The constitutional amendment authorizing the professional sports team charitable foundations of organizations sanctioned by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association or the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association to conduct charitable raffles at rodeo venues.” What it means: This amendment would authorize professional sports team charitable organizations to conduct raffles at rodeo venues. The measure would amend section 47 of Article 3 of the state constitution. My reasoning: Yes, the only reason I’m against it is the stupidity of making an entire amendment for this. It is entirely under control of the PRCA and WPRA as to what organizations they will allow. Under current law, only professional sports team charitable foundations can conduct raffles. Since these raffles have proved to play an integral role in generating revenue for foundations, Proposition 1 seeks to expand the law to include rodeo charitable foundations as well.
- ) Y — Proposition 2 (HJR 99) What it says: “The constitutional amendment authorizing a county to finance the development or redevelopment of transportation or infrastructure in unproductive, underdeveloped, or blighted areas in the county.” What it means: The amendment would authorize a county to issue bonds to fund infrastructure and transportation projects in undeveloped and blighted areas. It would also prohibit counties that issue bonds for such purposes from pledging more than 65% of the increase in ad-valorem tax revenues to repay the bonds. My reasoning: I’m surprised counties can’t do this already, since this is a really common thing for cities to do. Also the limit on ad-valorem tax bumps to pay off a bond is a decent compromise between forcing the county to make competent financial decisions and not scaring off potential investors, since their ROI will be directly tied to a government’s ability to pay them back.
- ) N — Proposition 3 (SJR 27) What it says: “The constitutional amendment to prohibit this state or a political subdivision of this state from prohibiting or limiting religious services of religious organizations.” What it means: Proposition 3 would amend Article 1 of the Texas constitution by adding a new section to prohibit the state or any political subdivision from enacting a law, rule, order, or proclamation that limits religious services or organizations. Arguments against this amendment cite COVID as one valid reason to suspend religious services, approving this proposition would prevent authorities from banning this type of events even during a worldwide pandemic. My reasoning: This is pretty obviously some COVID-19 restriction backlash. It’s stupid. I’m all for religious freedom, but there should be and always has been a hard limit to that, the Branch Davidians, The Church of Scientology, and numerous cults spell that out pretty clearly. My fundamentalist, evangelical church abides by the law. We did not meet until it was legal and then we wore masks and now we wear masks and segregate based on need and preference. People will make this out to be some sort of fascist element of oppression, but people of faith — God’s people — have historically been oppressed and that’s a part of it. When you sign up to be a “Soldier of Christ” that is what you are signing up for, it’s not based around your personal convenience. The government can tell us when to worship (especially when they are doing what is literally described in Romans 13:1–3 in light of our safety from COVID-19). If they start to use their authority to make it illegal to worship or to force us to violate the law of God then that’s fine. I am prepared to defy corrupt human governance and suffer the consequences. I would suggest that those who aren’t prepared to do so question their faith and what their faith really means. It’s not my job to make the world bend to my faith, but rather to submit to authority and try my best to get the world to at least hear the merits of our beliefs to consider it for themselves.
- ) Y— Proposition 4 (SJR 47) What it says: “The constitutional amendment changing 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.” What it means: The amendment would change the eligibility requirements for the following judicial offices: 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. New requirements would include: Candidates should be residents of Texas as well as citizens of the United States; Candidates should have 10 years of experience in Texas as a practicing lawyer or judge of a state or county court for candidates of the supreme court, Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, or a court of appeals; Candidates should have 8 years of experience in Texas as a practicing lawyer or judge of a state or county court for candidates of a district court; It would disqualify candidates if their license to practice law was revoked or suspended during experience requirement; These requirements would be applied to individuals elected or appointed to a term beginning after January 1, 2025. My reasoning: This and Prop. 5 are things I wish I knew more about. I am really hesitant about these. The citizenship requirements are pretty fair. The practicing requirements are a little onerous, I think half of that is sufficient. You don’t need to be ancient to know what you’re doing. That’s really where my hesitation comes from, laws like these can often be pushed through in a year prior to elections in order to make sure that people in power disqualify a known opponent in advance. And I don’t know off the top of my head of a current/upcoming challenger for a TX Supreme court seat that is too young or inexperienced to meet these requirements by the 2022 election cycle. However, this doesn’t take effect till 2025, so it isn’t unfairly aimed at next year’s challengers or a current incumbent. Also, the restrictions on those who have had their license to practice suspended and revoked is really nice. I’ve heard too many horror stories of legal professionals in all sorts of positions allowed to practice again and again after several suspensions and warnings. Maybe this is just put added in there because the GOP or some other organization controls how law licenses in Texas are punished or judged to be in violation, but in isolation and regardless of the status of corruption or integrity of the institutions that surround it, this law is solid.
- ) Y— Proposition 5 (HJR 165) What it says: “The constitutional amendment providing additional powers to the State Commission on Judicial Conduct with respect to candidates for judicial office.” What it means: Proposition five authorizes the Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct to accept and investigate complaints and reports against candidates running for state judicial office. “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. H.J.R. 165 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.” said Rep. Jacey Jetton (R), author of the amendment. My reasoning: This is the other part of the prior proposition where I just don’t know enough about the code of Judicial Conduct to feel confident that I know the basics as well as the meta of what this amendment is trying to accomplish. I’m even more hesitant on this one than on the former, but I like that it has candidate restrictions. As a rule of thumb, candidates that you want in office, who have a measure of integrity or at least some sense aren’t bending the norms, pushing the envelope, or breaking rules in their campaign (looking at you, Trump & Kellyanne Conway). The ones who are most deserving and trustworthy of the seat of power already know the campaign rules and they know their constituency well enough not to have to rely on tricks and underhandedness when running their campaign to ensure they have a fair shot at winning.
- ) Y— Proposition 6 (SJR 19) What it says: “The constitutional amendment establishing a right for residents of certain facilities to designate an essential caregiver for in-person visitation.” What it means: The amendment would allow residents of nursing facilities, assisted living facilities, or state-supported living centers to designate an essential caregiver that may not be prohibited from visiting the resident, even during a pandemic. My reasoning: I’m all for this. This may be a COVID-19 restriction backlash again, but at its core it is a sensible measure that will allow a vulnerable population to have some security. I personally saw how the sick and elderly were treated during pandemic restrictions, and because of that I don’t see this law as Libertarians against ‘muh freedums’ so much as it is a check against the big business of hospice and elder care. Before the pandemic even happened, elder care and disabled care facilities had a track record marred by several accusations and discoveries of plain old abuse and financial fraud against the ones they are supposed to be caring for. What I saw against my great-grandmother-in-law is just another condemnation against these kinds of care facilities: depriving her of toiletries, of seeing her grandson (the guardian of her estate), of receiving mail or any kind of packages containing toiletries, or speaking face-to-face with people she knows (at a time when she had dementia). I will never seek to put my loved ones in such a facility going forward, and had some pretty strong feelings against the staff who ran that facility. When you are sick, disoriented, and in need of care, seeing someone who you know and have a strong relationship with no matter what is a blessing and can help prolong positive quality of life. This is assuming that precautions are taken to ensure their safety (from something like a COVD-19 infection), but honestly having a trusted caregiver in person nearby is more important and whatever compromise needs to be struck to make sure they can be there (like mask requirements or whatever) should be made. It’s not like the vast majority of these ‘care’ facilities did ANYthing to control the spread of the virus among their staff and patients anyway.
- ) N— Proposition 7 (HJR 125) What it says: “The constitutional amendment to allow the surviving spouse of a person who is disabled to receive a limitation on the school district ad valorem taxes on the spouse’s residence homestead if the spouse is 55 years of age or older at the time of the person’s death.” What it means: Currently, disabled individuals may apply for a $10,000 homestead tax exemption and a limit on school district property taxes, proposition 7 would amend the Texas Constitution to allow the legislature to extend a homestead tax limit for surviving spouses of disabled individuals as long as the spouse is over 55 years old and resides at the home. Rep. Jake Ellzey (R) had this to say about the amendment, “The surviving spouse of a disabled homeowner should not be saddled with an unexpected large increase in their tax bill. That only magnifies the tragedy of the loss of their spouse and if they are on a fixed income it even further compounds their difficulties. If a couple has a disability exemption for their homestead, when the disabled person passes away, the surviving spouse loses the exemption. HJR125 protects the surviving spouse from the loss of an important benefit.” My reasoning: It’s not hard to get a disability designation in Texas. My gut tells me that this is here to have rich old people avoid property taxes on their piece of prime Williamson county real estate. They already get a generous tax break, they can take that and pay the rest of their justly owed taxes. Pay your dang taxes and stop trying to weasel your way out of them.
- ) Y— Proposition 8 (SJR 35) What it says: “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 member of the armed services of the United States who is killed or fatally injured in the line of duty.” What it means: Similar to proposition 7, this measure would amend the Texas Constitution to authorize a total residence homestead property tax exemption for a surviving spouse of a member of the armed services “who is killed or fatally injured in the line of duty.” Currently, the constitution grants the exemption to the surviving spouse of a member of the armed services “who is killed in action.” The amended version would also include service members who were fatally injured during military training or other military duties. My reasoning: As much as I want people to pay their taxes, this is a decent exception. It is honorable and just to extend an exemption here, especially when the majority of servicemember deaths are a result of training exercises and largely occur outside of combat zones. That is a huge condemnation against the way that Army HQ manages their training, but also a backhanded compliment to the seriousness in which they approach warfighting. Either way, the exemption should stand for all servicemember line-of-duty deaths.
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