From Prohibiting Income Taxes To Retired Police Dogs: Voters Face Choices On November Ballot

Political scholars say the Texas Constitution is longer than that of most states, and it limits the state legislature’s power in very particular ways.

By Rhonda FanningOctober 7, 2019 12:49 pm

With all the focus on 2020, some Texans may be unaware that there’s an election this year, too. On Nov. 5, voters will decide on several amendments to the Texas Constitution, and more.

Brian Smith is a professor of political science, and is associate dean of the School of Behavioral and Social Sciences at St. Edward’s University in Austin. Juan Carlos Huerta is professor of political science at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. Both have evaluated all 10 of the constitutional amendments, as well as the handful of special elections that will take place in November.

Special elections will be held in three Texas House districts where lawmakers aren’t running for reelection. In Texas’ 28th District, Republican Rep. John Zerwas left his seat to become the new executive vice chancellor of health affairs for the University of Texas System.

“[That] one is, really, a very key seat that the Democrats want to flip to their side – it’s a vacant Republican seat,” Smith says.

House District 148 in Houston, and District 100 in Dallas will also have special elections.

Of the 10 constitutional amendments, a few stand out, including one about personal income tax: Proposition 4.

“Texas is one of the largest states that doesn’t have a personal income tax, and what this would do is actually codify that Texas is not allowed to have an income tax by putting it in the Constitution,” Smith says. “It really puts up an additional firewall.”

Huerta has looked closely at Proposition 10 with his political science students. That measure seeks to amend the Texas Constitution so law enforcement officers can adopt services animals after they retire.

“You would think that the state Legislature could pass a law that would allow the transfer of these [animals],” Huerta says. “No. We have to amend the Texas Constitution.”

Smith says legally, law enforcement animals are treated the same as “beat up old police cars” – they’re considered “salvage and surplus.”

“Any salvage and surplus has to be auctioned or donated or destroyed, no matter what,” he says.

That’s a problem for officers who’ve developed bonds with those animals.

“If you just said, You’ve worked with this animal for a long time; we’re gonna give you the animal – no that’s unconstitutional. So, you have to pass an amendment,” Smith says.

There’s a similar conflict with Proposition 6, which is about cancer research, Huerta says. He says the Texas Legislature should have the authority to appropriate the money it wants for cancer research. But the Texas Constitution puts limits on that.

“Increasing the amount of funding that can go to cancer research does, again, require a constitutional amendment,” Huerta says. “That takes a super-majority in the House, super-majority in the Senate and a majority of the people who go and vote in these constitutional amendment elections.”

Proposition 7 seeks to double the amount of money the state can pull out of the Permanent School Fund to build new schools or give money directly to schools in need. But an increase requires a constitutional amendment, Smith says. But se says it has “broad support.”

“It’s like an old car: every couple years, you’re gonna have major problems and you gotta go in and get it fixed,” Smith says.

Another wrinkle is that fewer people tend to vote in off-year and special elections. Even so, Huerta expects all of the amendments to pass, and Smith says 100% of constitutional amendments proposed since the year 2000 have passed.

Learn more here about all of the constitutional amendments on the ballot.


Written by Caroline Covington.