Early voting of the Constitutional Amendment begins Oct. 23

By Timothy J. O’Malley
Managing Editor

The following article is a voter’s guide comprised from two different sources to help and aid the voter know what is proposed for the 2017 Constitutional Amendment Election and to have a better understanding what is on the ballot. The guide contains both sides of the argument, for and against, allowing the reader to vote while informed. Early voting starts Oct. 23 through Nov. 3, Monday-Friday from 9 a.m. - 4 p.m. at the Limestone County Courthouse Annex - Mexia, Courtroom, located at 205 S. McKinney. The day of the election will be held on Nov. 7 at the Mexia Civic Center.

STATE OF TEXAS PROPOSITION NUMBER 1 (HJR 21)
“The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to provide for an exemption from ad valorem taxation of part of the market value of the residence homestead of a partially disabled veteran or the surviving spouse of a partially disabled veteran if the residence homestead was donated to the disabled veteran by a charitable organization for less than the market value of the residence homestead and harmonizing certain related provisions of the Texas Constitution.”
What it means: This cleanup amendment would change an amendment approved by Texas voters in 2011 and would authorize property tax exemptions for certain partially disabled veterans or their surviving spouses whose homes were donated to them by charity for less than market value.
Texans for Fiscal Responsibility (TFR) Stance: Support Proposition 1. Their Reasoning: This is a clean-up amendment for a constitutional amendment that TFR supported in 2011 and Texas voters approved.
According from League of Women Voters of Texas Education Fund (lwvtexas.org)
Arguments for: • Currently a partially disabled veteran who paid part of the cost of a donated home receives no property tax exemption. Proposition 1 would give the same property tax exemption to a partially disabled veteran who paid something towards the value of a donated home that is currently received by partially disabled veterans whose homes were donated in full.
Arguments against: • Proposition 1 would continue a pattern of giving exemptions to specific groups of people. Reducing the taxes on specific groups usually means other groups must absorb more of the tax burden. • The legislature should focus its efforts on reducing the tax burden on everyone.
STATE OF TEXAS PROPOSITION NUMBER 2 (SJR 60)
“The constitutional amendment to establish a lower amount for expenses that can be charged to a borrower and removing certain financing expense limitations for a home equity loan, establishing certain authorized lenders to make a home equity loan, changing certain options for the refinancing of home equity loans, changing the threshold for an advance of a home equity line of credit, and allowing home equity loans on agricultural homesteads.”
What it means: This amendment will trim regulations concerning how much Texans can borrow through home equity loans. This amendment proposes changes to the following terms:
Fee cap. Lower the maximum limit on fees that can be charged to borrowers from 3% to 2% of the loan principal and exclude the cost of appraisals, property surveys, title insurance premiums, title insurance, and title examination reports from calculation of the maximum limit on fees.
Refinancing. Allow a home equity loan to be refinanced as a non-home equity loan secured with a lien against the property if certain conditions are met. This is currently prohibited.
Home equity lines of credit. Repeal a provision that prevents additional advances on a home equity line of credit if the unpaid principal exceeds 50% of the fair market value of the homestead.
Agricultural homesteads. Allow a home equity loan for a homestead designated for agricultural use. This is currently prohibited.
Approved lenders. Expand the list of approved home equity lenders by adding subsidiaries of banks, savings and loan associations, savings banks, and credit unions; and replace mortgage brokers with mortgage bankers and mortgage companies.
TFR Stance: Support Proposition 2. Their Reasoning: The less that government interferes in the free market, the more options citizens will have and the less they will pay.
According from League of Women Voters of Texas Education Fund (lwvtexas.org)
Arguments for: • The proposed amendment will make home equity loans more accessible, lower costs for borrowers, and provide consumers more choice. • Free cap. Lenders will be able to make loans under $100,000 more easily; the fee cap will not include fees by third parties, and consumers will still be protected against extreme fees from lenders. • Refinancing. Allowing a home equity loan to be refinanced into a non-home equity loan with reasonable restrictions would increase consumer choice. The borrower could combine a home equity loan with another loan to have one payment or to get a lower interest rate. • Home equity lines of credit. The change would allow the borrower to initially take out a smaller loan and pay less interest before borrowing more against the line of credit. • Agricultural homesteads. Owners of large and small agricultural homesteads should have the same choice as other Texans to borrow against their property under the consumer protections of a home equity loan.
Arguments against: • The proposed amendment will raise costs for borrowers and remove several important consumer protections that have worked for borrowers and lenders. • Free cap. Adding the costs of appraisals, surveys, and title insurance and reports on top of a maximum fee limit of 2% of the loan principal would likely be higher than the current 3% cap on all fees. • Refinancing. Home equity loans have important protections related to judicial foreclosure and protection against loss of non-home assets. A new home equity loan with the consumer protections is a better option than a non-home equity loan without those protections. • Home equity lines of credit. Current limits require the borrower to budget carefully for projected expenses and their payment. • Agricultural homesteads. Home equity loans and lines of credit for agricultural properties are costlier than farm operating loans and lines of credit due to the added large costs for appraisals, surveys, and title insurance and reports.
STATE OF TEXAS PROPOSITION NUMBER 3 (SJR 34)
“The constitutional amendment limiting the service of certain officeholders appointed by the governor and confirmed by the senate after the expiration of the person’s term of office.”
What it means: This amendment would eliminate “holdover” appointments by removing officeholders from their positions at the conclusion of their term rather than allowing them to stay on until their position has been filled through appointment.
TFR Stance: Support Proposition 3. Their Reasoning: Appointed office holders shouldn’t be allowed to remain in office far beyond the expiration of their term, a practice which has unfortunately become very common in Texas. This amendment encourages the governor and the Texas Legislature to be more effective and diligent in their appointments.
According from League of Women Voters of Texas Education Fund (lwvtexas.org)
Arguments for: • This amendment would limit the amount of time a governor’s appointee can serve and would address concerns about some gubernatorial appointees being held over in their positions long after their terms have expired. Placing the limit at the end of a regular legislative session allows Senate confirmation hearings of appointees. • Placing a limit on how long an appointee could continue serving in office would ensure that these unsalaried volunteer positions are rotated among qualified Texans.
Arguments against: The Governor has many appointed positions to fill; the existing law allows flexibility for appointees to continue serving until qualified replacements are found. • This amendment could result in many important appointed positions remaining vacant if a qualified replacement is not found within a certain time frame.
STATE OF TEXAS PROPOSITION NUMBER 4 (SJR 6)
“The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to require a court to provide notice to the attorney general of a challenge to the constitutionality of a state statute and authorizing the legislature to prescribe a waiting period before the court may enter a judgment holding the statute unconstitutional.”
What it means: This amendment would require courts to notify the Texas Attorney General if a case could impact the constitutionality of a state law.
TFR Stance: Support Proposition 4. Their Reasoning: This amendment would allow the Texas Legislature and the Texas Attorney General to be better informed about challenges to existing state law so they could either defend the laws or adjust them.
According from League of Women Voters of Texas Education Fund (lwvtexas.org)
Arguments for: • Proposition 4 ensures the state has an opportunity to defend the constitutionality of its laws. • The proposed amendment would not alter the state’s separation of powers doctrine nor restrict the ability of courts to strike down laws as unconstitutional. • This amendment would only provide the attorney general with notice so the attorney general could offer assistance to defend a state law. It would not change the authority of the attorney general’s office over criminal matters.
Arguments against: • The constitution should not be amended in a way that could undermine the state’s separation of powers doctrine. Each branch of the government should be able to exercise its powers without interference from another branch. • The legislature should not establish procedures that delay a Texan’s right to pursue and receive relief from unconstitutional laws. • Under current law, in criminal cases the state prosecuting attorney, not the attorney general, represents the state. This law could create confusion regarding the attorney’s role in criminal cases.
STATE OF TEXAS PROPOSITION NUMBER 5 (HJR 100)
“The constitutional amendment on professional sports team charitable foundations conducting charitable raffles.”
What it means: This amendment would expand the definition of “professional sports team,” giving more organizations the ability to conduct “charitable raffles.” This amendment proposes to remove the restriction that only charitable foundations existing on Jan. 1, 2016 may conduct charitable raffles; and define “professional sports teams” eligible to conduct charitable raffles to allow professional hockey, basketball, football, baseball, soccer, motorsports, and golf teams, including minor leagues as well as major leagues.
TFR Stance: Against Proposition 5. Their Reasoning: While seemingly innocuous, this amendment would expand state-sanctioned gambling. State-sanctioned gambling is a corrupting force for Texas government.
According from League of Women Voters of Texas Education Fund (lwvtexas.org)
Arguments for: Proposition 5, in expanding the number of eligible sports teams, allows more sports teams to capitalize on the large and supportive crowds at sporting events, which increases the amount of charitable funds to support their charitable programs. • It would add minor leagues sports teams representing more rural and suburban communities, bringing charitable revenue to new and different parts of the state and uniting sports teams and their communities to assist disadvantaged Texans. • The proposed amendment only expands the number of sports teams that could participate in charitable raffles; it would make no other change and would not remove safeguards that were established to protect against improperly conducted raffles.
Arguments against: Current law, which applies only to the 10 Texas major league sports franchises, protect against the creation of entities solely to take advantage of charitable raffles. • Proposition 5 could open the door to further expansion of charitable raffles conducted by the foundations of less well-established teams. • The proposed amendment expands gambling in Texas by increasing the number of raffles that sports team foundations can conduct, which could lead to other groups requesting authority to offer such raffles.
STATE OF TEXAS PROPOSITION NUMBER 6 (SJR 1)
“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 first responder who is killed or fatally injured in the line of duty.”
What it means: This amendment would allow the Texas Legislature to provide a property tax exemption for surviving spouses of first responders killed or fatally injured in the line of duty if the spouse has not remarried. If the surviving spouse moves to a new homestead, the spouse is entitled to an equivalent homestead exemption for real property taxation.
TFR Stance: Neutral on Proposition 6. Their reasoning; Supporters say: Honoring the spouses of first responders is a noble undertaking.
Critics say: Texans should be concerned about the rampant growth in constituencies receiving property tax exemptions. These exemptions risk making Swiss cheese of the tax code, leaving taxpayers outside of the exceptions to pick up the costs.
According from League of Women Voters of Texas Education Fund (lwvtexas.org)
Arguments for: • Families of fallen first responders, with their incomes reduced, should not have to bear the burden of losing their homes because of the price of property taxes. • Surviving spouses of first responders killed in the line of duty should be treated the same as surviving spouses of veterans killed in the line of duty. • The fiscal impact on a single taxing district would be minimal.
Arguments against: • Regardless of how deserving the recipients, creating additional property tax exemptions may require local governments to place an additional tax burden on other tax payers. • School districts would receive less revenue from property taxes so the state may decide to cover this reduction by taking it from the General Fund, creating a cost to the state.
STATE OF TEXAS PROPOSITION NUMBER 7 (HJR 37)
“The constitutional amendment relating to legislative authority to permit credit unions and other financial institutions to award prizes by lot to promote savings.”
What it means: This amendment would allow banks, credit unions, and other financial institutions to conduct promotional activities such as “savings promotion raffles.”
TFR Stance: Neutral on Proposition 7. Their reasoning; Supporters say: This amendment would give banks and credit unions the ability to host savings promotion raffles, also known as prize-linked savings accounts (PLSAs), which offer incentives to save rather than spend or gamble away earnings.
Critics say: This amendment amounts to a carve-out for one industry to do a raffle and would be the only non-charitable raffle allowed in the state.
According from League of Women Voters of Texas Education Fund (lwvtexas.org)
Arguments for: • Saving incentives are needed as more that one third of Texas households lack a savings account and about half do not have a three-month emergency fund. States that have removed legal barriers to such raffles have seen a significant increase in consumer savings. • Savings promotion raffles are not gambling as they require no form of payment, only a deposit into a savings account, and benefit the consumer even if the consumer does not win a prize. Depositors can withdraw their money at any time and therefore do not lose money as in other raffles.
Arguments against: • Proposition 7 would permit one industry to do a raffle and would be the only non-charitable raffle allowed in the state. It is not equitable to allow only one industry to conduct raffles. • This proposition could lead to other industries requesting permission to hold raffles and to more serious forms of gambling.