Sunday, October 23, 2005

1- "Railroad companies should pay their own bills. 9-"Regional mobility boards are not elected and are not directly accountable to the public."

Putting the amendments to a vote

October 23, 2005

By Wanda Garner Cash
Baytown Sun
Copyright 2005

Many of the proposed amendments to the constitution on the Nov. 8 ballot are designed to help Texas and Texans and, if passed, will likely have the desired effect. Other ballot measures are unnecessary or needlessly supercede local government control.

Here are recommendations from The Baytown Sun Editorial Board:

Proposition 1 - Against

The constitutional amendment creating the Texas rail relocation and improvement fund and authorizing grants of money and issuance of obligations for financing the relocation, rehabilitation, and expansion of rail facilities.

On the face of it, this amendment sounds like a good deal that would help fix rail crossings. Beneath the surface, its real effect would create another public funding for private enterprise, specifically the controversial Trans-Texas rail corridor. By amending the Constitution to authorize the creation of this fund, the state could commit itself to such debt for a long time to come. Railroad companies should pay their own bills and fund their own projects.

We recommend a No vote.

Proposition 2 - Against

“The constitutional amendment providing that marriage in this state consists only of the union of one man and one woman and prohibiting this state or a political subdivision of this state from creating or recognizing any legal status identical or similar to marriage.”

This redundant amendment would prevent a possible judicial challenge to the state’s existing marriage statutes. It effectively prohibits any governmental entity in Texas from creating or recognizing any legal status that is identical or similar to marriage. Proposition 2 essentially would determine that the state’s equal protection clause would not apply to one group of people: homosexuals. Nowhere else in the constitution is one group of people singled out to be denied rights.

While we support the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman, we recommend a No vote on Proposition 2 because of its redundancy and its potentially discriminatory effects.

Proposition 3 - Against

“The constitutional amendment clarifying that certain economic development programs do not constitute a debt.”

This amendment grew from a local case in Travis County. It constitutes an overreaction that is fraught with dangerous precedent that would give blanket approval for economic development programs regardless of the overall implications for local government and taxpayers.

We recommend a No vote because existing safeguards are specific, enforceable and sufficient.

Proposition 4 - For

“The constitutional amendment authorizing the denial of bail to a criminal defendant who violates a condition of the defendant’s release pending trial.”

This amendment would add an additional, narrow exception to existing law that allows judges to deny bail in limited, justifiable circumstances. Specifically, when the defendant already had been free on bond once, had failed to comply with the conditions for release, and had presented a threat. It would apply only to accused felons whose first bond had been revoked due to a serious violation related to the safety of the community or the alleged victim.

We recommend a Yes vote.

Proposition 5 - For

“The constitutional amendment allowing the legislature to define rates of interest for commercial loans.”

Basically, this is an effort to increase commercial lending in the state by permitting Texas’ commercial lenders to compete with financial institutions from across the country.

We recommend a Yes vote.

Proposition 6 - For

“The constitutional amendment to include one additional public member and a constitutional county court judge in the membership of the State Commission on Judicial Conduct.”

The judicial conduct commission investigates judicial misconduct and levies discipline, education, censure, or removal from office. Adding a county judge and a private citizen to the commission will provide valuable perspective and experience to their deliberations.

We recommend a Yes vote.

Proposition 7 - For

“The constitutional amendment authorizing line-of-credit advances under a reverse mortgage.”

This amendment enhances and adds flexibility to the benefits of the hard-fought home equity borrowing option that only recently became legal in Texas. This will allows senior citizens to control the amount and timing of their borrowing.

We recommend a Yes vote.

Proposition 8 - Against

“The constitutional amendment providing for the clearing of land titles by relinquishing and releasing any state claim to sovereign ownership or title to interest in certain land in Upshur County and in Smith County.”

This is a matter best left to the courts that are already considering this long-running dispute. Instead of regularly amending the Constitution to address land disputes, the Legislature should establish an ongoing mechanism to settle such matters without having to hold expensive constitutional amendment elections.

We recommend a No vote.

Proposition 9 - Against

“The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to provide for a six-year term for a board member of a regional mobility authority.”

Regional mobility boards are not elected and are not directly accountable to the public. Making the terms of these board members consistent with the terms of the county commissioners who appoint them would improve accountability.

We recommend a No vote.

Today’s editorial was written by Wanda Garner Cash, on behalf of the newspaper’s editorial board, with background from the Texas House Research Organization and the League of Women Voters-Texas.

© 2005 The Baytown Sun: