Here’s what voters will decide in Texas’ Constitutional Amendment Election

By Davis Rich

*Correction appended

Texas voters are about to weigh in on 10 proposed amendments to the state constitution, which deal with everything from retiring law enforcement animals to the state's tax code. Voters in three state House districts will also participate in special elections to fill empty seats.

Early voting begins Oct. 21 and runs through Nov. 1. Election Day is Nov. 5.

During this year's legislative session, lawmakers passed several bills that require amendments to the Texas Constitution. A majority of Texas voters must vote to support any change to the state constitution in a statewide referendum. In 2017, all seven constitutional amendments on the ballot passed.

Below are the 10 amendments on the ballot next month. More analysis on each proposition, from the House Research Organization, is available here.

Proposition 1

How it will read on the ballot: “The constitutional amendment permitting a person to hold more than one office as a municipal judge at the same time.”

What it means: Municipal court judges adjudicate city ordinance violations and certain misdemeanor criminal cases. The proposition would permit elected municipal court judges to serve multiple municipalities at the same time. Currently, only appointed municipal court judges — who make up more than 95 percent of the state's municipal court judges, according the House Research Organization — can serve multiple jurisdictions at the same time, making it more challenging for small and rural cities to find qualified candidates, some argue.

Proposition 2

How it will read on the ballot: “The constitutional amendment providing for the issuance of additional general obligation bonds by the Texas Water Development Board in an amount not to exceed $200 million to provide financial assistance for the development of certain projects in economically distressed areas.

What it means: This would allow TWDB to issue bonds to fund for water and wastewater infrastructure projects in areas where median household income is at or below 75% of the statewide median income level.

Proposition 3

How it will read on the ballot: “The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to provide for a temporary exemption from ad valorem taxation of a portion of the appraised value of certain property damaged by a disaster.”

What it means: This would allow the Legislature to create temporary property tax exemptions for people with property damaged in governor-declared disaster areas. The Legislature would be able to pass laws determining the eligibility requirements for exemptions, as well as the duration and amount of any write-offs.

Proposition 4

How it will read on the ballot: “The constitutional amendment prohibiting the imposition of an individual income tax, including a tax on an individual’s share of partnership and unincorporated association income.”

What it means: This would make it more challenging for future lawmakers to enact a personal income tax, requiring support from two-thirds of the House and Senate and a majority of Texas voters. Currently, the state Constitution requires that any proposal be approved a majority of lawmakers in the House and Senate and a majority of voters in a state-wide referendum.

Proposition 5

How it will read on the ballot: “The constitutional amendment dedicating the revenue received from the existing state sales and use taxes that are imposed on sporting goods to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the Texas Historical Commission to protect Texas’ natural areas, water quality, and history by acquiring, managing, and improving state and local parks and historic sites while not increasing the rate of the state sales and use taxes.”

What it means: It would earmark all revenue from the sporting goods sales tax toward the state parks and wildlife department and historic commission, as intended when the tax was created in 1993. In the past, the Legislature has not appropriated all available tax revenue to TPWD and THC.

Proposition 6

How it will read on the ballot: “The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to increase by $3 billion the maximum bond amount authorized for the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas.”

What it means: This would allow the Legislature to double the maximum amount of bonds it can issue on behalf of the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, to $6 billion.

Proposition 7

How it will read on the ballot: “The constitutional amendment allowing increased distributions to the available school fund.”

What it means: This would allow the General Land Office, the State Board of Education and other entities to double the amount of revenue they can provide the Available School Fund each year. The Available School Fund provides classroom materials and funding for Texas schools.

Proposition 8

How it will read on the ballot: “The constitutional amendment providing for the creation of the flood infrastructure fund to assist in the financing of drainage, flood mitigation, and flood control projects.”

What it means: This would create a flood infrastructure fund that the Texas Water Development Board could use to finance projects following a disaster.

Proposition 9

How it will read on the ballot: “The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to exempt from ad valorem taxation precious metal held in a precious metal depository located in this state.”

What it means: This would allow the legislature to create a property tax exemption for precious metals held in state depositories — like the Texas Bullion Depository, scheduled to open next year in Leander.

Proposition 10

How it will read on the ballot: “The constitutional amendment to allow the transfer of a law enforcement animal to a qualified caretaker in certain circumstances.”

What it means: It would allow for former handlers or qualified caretakers to adopt retired law enforcement animals without a fee.

Special elections

Three special elections to fill vacate state House seats are scheduled for next month's election. Two of the districts — HD-100 and HD-148 — are reliably Democratic. In HD-28, Democrats are trying to flip a seat that Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond, held from 2007 until last month.

Here is a short breakdown of the three races:

House District 28:

Seven candidates — six Republicans and one Democrat — are vying for this state House seat in Fort Bend County that Democrats see as flippable after Zerwas retired to join the University of Texas System as executive chancellor of health affairs. The Republican won re-election by 8 percentage points last year.

The Republican candidates are:

  • Anna Allred, an anesthesiologist who recently announced $159,000 in fundraising during the first six weeks of her campaign
  • Gary Gates, a businessman who lost a Railroad Commission bid in 2016 and a District 18 Senate try in 2014
  • Gary J. Hale, a Katy businessman and former federal Drug Enforcement Administration intelligence official
  • Tricia Krenek, an attorney and former member of the Fulshear City Council who lost a 2018 election for the Fort Bend County Court at Law
  • Sarah Laningham, a salesperson who lost the Republican primary for HD-14 in 2018
  • Clinton D. Purnell, a Katy man who works in logistics and compliance for an engineering firm.

The lone Democratic candidate is:

  • Eliz Markowitz, a Katy teacher who holds endorsements from Annie's List, the DLCC and the Fort Bend County Democratic Party

House District 100:

Former Rep. Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, vacated this seat after winning the Dallas mayoral race. Four Democrats are competing for Johnson's former position.

They are:

  • James Armstrong III, a pastor and the CEO of a Dallas-based community development organization
  • Lorraine Birabil, a legal associate and a former staffer for U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey
  • Daniel Davis Clayton, a community leader and small business owner
  • Sandra Crenshaw, a former Dallas councilmember who unsuccessfully ran for HD-100 in 2018

A fifth Democrat, Paul Stafford, will appear on the ballot, though he ended his campaign last month after filing for the seat. His votes will be counted, though if he gets enough to advance to a runoff, his votes will be set aside and the results will be calculated again without him.

House District 148:

State Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, retired after representing HD-148 for 25 years. Fifteen candidates — 12 Democrats, two Republicans and an independent — are vying for the seat.

The Democratic candidates are:

  • Rob Block, a firefighter and community activist
  • Kendra Yarbrough Camarena, a teacher and community activist
  • Carol Denson, a teacher and environmental lobbyist
  • Anna Eastman, a community leader and former Houston ISD trustee
  • Adrian Garcia, a legal case manager and community leader
  • Terah Isaacson, a physician
  • Michele Leal, a non-profit development director
  • Mia Mundy, a executive search consultant who unsuccessfully ran for Senate District 6 in 2018
  • Anna Núñez, a community activist and a former communications coordinator for the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas
  • Penny Shaw, an attorney and congressional legislative advocate
  • Alva Treviño, an attorney and former general counsel for the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County
  • Chris Watt, an attorney and Board Chair for a research and advocacy organization focusing on Texas children

The Republican candidates are:

  • Luis LaRotta, a U.S. Navy veteran and engineer who is endorsed by the Harris County Republicans
  • Ryan McConnico, a Republican consultant who lost to Farrar in the 2018 HD-148 race

The lone independent candidate is:

  • Chris Carmona, an attorney

Editor's Note: We want your help in reporting on the challenges Texans face when trying to vote — and the possible ways to address them. Tell us about the hurdles or problems you’ve run into while trying to exercise your right to vote in Texas by filling out a short form or email our reporter, Alexa Ura, directly at aura@texastribune.org.

Disclosure: Texas General Land Office and the University of Texas System have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly described Anna Núñez's former job at the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas and omitted one of the candidates for House District 148.

Read related Tribune coverage

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2019/10/15/texas-2019-constitutional-amendments-what-voters-need-know/.

Texas Tribune mission statement

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.