Thursday, October 20, 2011

Propositions 1 and 10: Nov 8th 2011 Constitutional Amendments


On Tuesday, November 8th, 2012, a Constitutional Amendment will be held.  Two propositions directly affect the Texas veteran community: Propositions 1 and 10.  Full details follow.


Please distribute this message to your individual members, encourage them to get registered to vote, and to vote for the passage of Propositions 1 and 10. 


General Information

In the 2011 Regular Session, the 82nd Texas Legislature passed 10 joint resolutions proposing amendments to the state constitution, and these proposed amendments will be offered for approval by the voters of Texas on the November 8, 2011, election ballot.


The Texas Constitution provides that the legislature, by a two-thirds vote of all members of each house, may propose amendments revising the constitution and that proposed amendments must then be submitted for approval to the qualified voters of the state.  A proposed amendment becomes a part of the constitution if a majority of the votes cast in an election on the proposition are cast in its favor.  An amendment approved by voters is effective on the date of the official canvass of returns showing adoption.  The date of canvass, by law, is not earlier than the 15th or later than the 30th day after election day.  An amendment may provide for a later effective date.


From the adoption of the current Texas Constitution in 1876 through November 2009, the legislature has proposed 646 amendments to the constitution, of which 643 have gone before Texas voters.  Of the amendments on the ballot, 467 have been approved by the electorate and 176 have been defeated.  The other three amendments were never placed on the ballot, for reasons that are historically obscure.  See the online publicationAmendments to the Texas Constitution Since 1876 for more information.


The Analyses of Proposed Constitutional Amendments contains, for each proposed amendment that will appear on the November 8, 2011, ballot, the ballot language, an analysis, and the text of the joint resolution proposing the amendment.  The analysis includes background information and a summary of comments made during the legislative process about the proposed constitutional amendment by supporters and by opponents.


Proposition 1 Allowing surviving spouse of disabled veteran to receive homestead tax exemption


SJR 14 Van de Putte (C. Anderson)



Texas Constitution, Art. 8, sec. 1(b) requires that all real and tangible personal property be taxed in proportion to its value unless exempted as authorized by the Constitution. Art. 8, sec. 1-b(i), added in 2007, authorizes the Legislature to exempt from property taxes all or part of the value of the residence homestead of a veteran certified as having a service-related disability of 100 percent or as totally disabled. Tax Code, sec. 11.131 fully exempts the value of the residence homesteads of 100 percent or totally disabled veterans from property taxes.


Veterans are considered 100 percent disabled based on the extent of their physical disability. Total disability is based on employment capability.  A veteran may qualify for the tax exemption under either disability category, as defined by the federal Veterans Administration.



Proposition 1 would authorize the Legislature to allow the surviving spouse of a 100 percent or totally disabled veteran to receive a property tax exemption for a residence homestead if the disabled veteran qualified for the exemption when the veteran died. The exemption would be the same portion of the market value of the same property to which the disabled veteran's exemption

applied. A homestead would qualify if:

•      the property was the residence homestead of the surviving spouse when the disabled veteran died;

•      the property remained the residence homestead of the surviving spouse; and

•      the surviving spouse had not remarried since the disabled veteran died.


Proposition 1 also would authorize the Legislature to allow the exemption to follow the surviving spouse to a new homestead if the surviving spouse had not remarried after the death of the disabled veteran. The exemption would be limited to the dollar amount of the exemption for the previous qualifying homestead as of the last year in which the surviving spouse had received the exemption.


The change would apply starting with the tax year beginning January 1, 2012, and would apply only to tax years after that date.


The ballot proposal reads: "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 100 percent or totally disabled veteran."


Supporters say

While current law provides a full exemption from property taxes on the residential homesteads of 100 percent or totally disabled veterans, the exemption unfortunately does not transfer to a surviving spouse upon the veteran's death. The personal loss sustained by the surviving spouse is compounded by the need to pay an unexpected property tax bill. Proposition 1 would solve this problem by allowing the exemption to continue for the surviving spouse.


There is precedent for such a measure because Texas already grants certain surviving spouses the right to inherit other property tax breaks. For instance, the school tax freeze awarded to the owner of a residential homestead at age 65 is transferable to a surviving spouse as long as the spouse is at least 55 years old at the time of the transfer. Proposition 1 and its enabling legislation would be a sensible extension of this policy.


Proposition 1 also would help contain the cost of the continued exemption by allowing it to follow the surviving spouse into a new homestead property but not to increase. If the surviving spouse moved to a more valuable property, the spouse could exempt only the value of the original homestead. If the surviving spouse moved to a less valuable property, then the more valuable original homestead would be returned to the property tax rolls, and the exemption would follow the surviving spouse to the less valuable homestead.


As disabled veterans face their final years, their greatest concerns are about the fate of their families. Proposition 1 would provide them with some peace of mind.  We owe this to the service men and women who have sacrificed so much for our country. A spouse who had remarried would not qualify for the exemption or for the transfer of the exemption amount to a new homestead, so the tax break would be limited.


Opponents say

By extending the time that certain properties remained exempt from property taxes, Proposition 1 would decrease property tax revenue to local governments, which means other taxpayers could have to make up the revenue loss. The state should not grant tax exemptions when schools, health care, and other essential services are critically underfunded. A valuable homestead property could remain off the tax rolls for many years if the surviving spouse lived much longer than the disabled veteran.


Other opponents say

The homestead tax exemption for the surviving spouse of a 100 percent or totally disabled veteran should end if the spouse remarried. Under Proposition 1 and its enabling legislation, once the surviving spouse qualified for the full homestead tax exemption or the transfer of the exemption amount to a new homestead, the exemption would continue regardless of whether the spouse subsequently remarried.  The remarriage prohibition would apply only at the point the surviving spouse initially qualified for the tax break.



The enabling legislation, SB 516 by Patrick, will take effect January 1, 2012, if the voters approve Proposition 1. The provisions of SB 516 are identical to those in Proposition 1.




Proposition 10 Lengthening period before county officials must resign to run for other office


SJR 37 by Van de Putte (V. Taylor)



Resign-to-run.  Under Texas Constitution, Art. 16, sec. 65, when certain elected officials file or announce their candidacy for another office in any general, special, or primary election and their unexpired term of office exceeds one year, it constitutes an automatic resignation from the office held. 


This provision, known as the "resign-to-run" provision, applies to district clerks, county clerks, county judges, county court-at-law judges, county criminal court judges, county probate judges, county domestic relations court judges, county treasurers, county surveyors, county commissioners, justices of the peace, sheriffs, tax assessors and collectors, district attorneys, criminal district attorneys, county attorneys, public weighers, and constables.


New filing deadline. Members of the uniformed services and U.S. citizens who live abroad are eligible to register and vote absentee in federal elections under the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act of 1986 (UOCAVA). In 2009, Congress overhauled UOCAVA by enacting the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act, which requires that all states send absentee ballots to uniformed and overseas citizens at least 45 days before an election. This change addressed concerns that military and overseas voters did not have sufficient time to vote and thus were effectively disenfranchised.


SB 100 by Van de Putte, enacted by the 82nd Legislature during its 2011 regular session and signed by the governor, implements the federal MOVE Act by amending the state's primary election calendar to accommodate the new deadlines for sending ballots to military and overseas voters. The new law moved the filing deadline for an application for a place on the general primary election ballot from January 2 in a primary election year to the second Monday in December of the odd-numbered year before the primary. This year, the candidate filing period for the 2012 election will begin on November 12, 2011, and the filing deadline will be December 12. SB 100 also moved the runoff primary election date from the second Tuesday in April after the general primary election to the fourth Tuesday in May.





 Proposition 10 would amend Texas Constitution, Art. 16, sec. 65 to extend from one year to one year and 30 days the length of the unexpired term of office that would require automatic resignation by an officeholder who filed or announced candidacy for another office.


The ballot proposal reads: "The constitutional amendment to change the length of the unexpired term that causes the automatic resignation of certain elected county or district officeholders if they become candidates for another office."


Supporters say

 Proposition 10 would change the length of the unexpired term that causes the automatic resignation of certain county and district officeholders. It is needed to address the new filing deadline imposed by SB 100, which the Legislature enacted to implement the federal MOVE Act requiring a longer period before an election for overseas military to cast absentee ballots.  The constitutional change would allow officeholders with less than one year and 30 days left in their unexpired terms to avoid automatically resigning their office by becoming a candidate for another public office.


Without approval of Proposition 10, certain county and district officeholders wishing to seek another office will have to forfeit their current posts when they announce their candidacies because they must file for a place on the ballot with more than 12 months left in their current posts under the new filing deadline. Under prior law, the filing deadline was January 2, while the terms for county and district offices end on December 31.  This gave these officials a small window of opportunity to file for another office rather than seek reelection and still keep their positions for the remainder of their terms. Moving the filing deadline to the second Monday in December means that these officials have no option but to resign their position if they file for another office.


Officeholders with less than one year and 30 days left in their unexpired terms should be able to keep their current jobs. Most elected officials are not independently wealthy and rely on their jobs to support themselves and their families. Many would find it difficult to vacate their jobs an entire year early in order to seek another office. This would deprive officeholders of completing their terms and would create unnecessary vacancies, requiring the appointment of temporary officials to complete the terms. 


Changing the filing deadline through enactment of SB 100 was necessary for Texas to comply with the federal MOVE Act, which Congress enacted to ensure that military and overseas voters had sufficient time to cast their ballots. Most states have approved or are in the process of approving legislation to comply with the MOVE Act. Ultimately, Texas lawmakers decided that moving the filing deadline was the least disruptive option for voters and the most cost-effective option for the state to comply with the MOVE Act and leave current election dates in place. Alternatives to changing the filing deadline, such as moving the primary election date, would have shifted other election dates and created conflicts with local elections.


The resign-to-run provision was added to the Texas Constitution in 1958 after the terms for certain officials were extended from two to four years. The provision still serves the state's interests by barring those officials from running for another office in the middle of their terms and ensuring that they do not neglect their duties for too long a period because of aspirations for another office. 


Opponents say

 The resign-to-run provision should be repealed, not merely revised to reconcile it with the new earlier candidate filing deadline. A local official should not be penalized for announcing candidacy for another public office merely because his or her unexpired term exceeds one year. Repealing the provision would treat county and district officials the same as other public officials, who are not required to resign in order to run for another office. 


The change in the resign-to-run provision would facilitate the change in the candidate filing period, which now will begin on November 12, 2011, almost a full year in advance of the November 6, 2012, election. This will mean an election season that is far too long.











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