New Texas constitutional amendments would increase public debt, entrench bureaucrats and subsidize private interests
BY MICHAEL KING
In addition to sexual obsessions, we get to vote on railroads and mortgages too. Oh goody.
Although most of the Nov. 8 ink and angst will be spilled over Proposed Constitutional Amendment 2, grimly defining Real Texas Marriages, there are eight additional proposed amendments that oozed out of the 79th Legislature, in hopes of gumming up the state constitution with a little more extraneous bureaucratic detail. The Chronicle editorial board views most such government-by-boilerplate with great skepticism, but our formal endorsements will arrive in a couple of weeks, prior to the Oct. 24 opening of early voting. In the meantime, here's a capsule of what you'll see on the ballot.
Proposition 1: "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."
English translation: Partially a spinoff of Gov. Perry's Trans-Texas Corridor scheme, Proposition 1 would give bonding authority for public underwriting of rail relocation and improvements – e.g., swapping a MoPac freight move in return for a commuter rail corridor in the current location. Supporters call this the transportation wave of the future (kissing cousin to toll roads); opponents say we don't need either the additional debt or the sidelong subsidy to private rail interests.
Proposition 2: "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."
Translation :Despite its high-minded language about marriage and the state, Proposition 2 is in essence a rear-guard, heavily politicized attempt to freeze theological religious concepts into a secular state constitution; Gov. Perry's reflexive description of marriage as a "sacred union" gives the game away – since when does the government decide what is and is not "sacred"? Supporters call it necessary to preserve "the traditional family"; opponents say it is both unnecessary reiteration of state law and a reckless attack on simple human rights for all citizens.
Proposition 3: "The constitutional amendment clarifying that certain economic development programs do not constitute a debt."
Translation: Despite its bland and completely uninformative language, Proposition 3 is specifically aimed at a Travis Co. court decision (in a lawsuit brought by the SOS Alliance) that ruled the deal between the Village of Bee Cave and the proposed Shops at the Galleria development violates the state constitution, because it attempts to bind future governments and does not provide an adequate mechanism for repayment. Supporters say the amendment is needed to protect "380 projects" (after a chapter in the Local Government Code); opponents say it is little more than a legislative overruling of a single court decision and a green light for local government to give developers whatever they want and worry about the consequences later.
Proposition 4: "The constitutional amendment authorizing the denial of bail to a criminal defendant who violates a condition of the defendant's release pending trial."
Translation: The amendment would add additional circumstances to already constitutionally mandated conditions for denial of bail in felony cases when the defendant has violated conditions of the original bond. Supporters say it's necessary to protect potential victims; opponents say it gives too much discretion to a judge to deny bail in circumstances that do not merit such a remedy.
Proposition 5: "The constitutional amendment allowing the Legislature to define rates of interest for commercial loans."
Translation: Proposition 5 would exempt high-dollar commercial loans from current usury limits set by the constitution. Bankers say they need the exemption to compete with out-of-state banks on large commercial loans; opponents say this amendment would open the door to effectively abolishing all usury limits and leave consumers at the mercy of unscrupulous lenders.
Proposition 6: "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."
Translation: The amendment would not only increase the size of the Judicial Conduct commission but eliminate the current requirement of geographical diversity. Supporters say it would give the commission more flexibility; opponents say it is unnecessary and could create regional conflicts on particular cases.
Proposition 7: "The constitutional amendment authorizing line-of-credit advances under a reverse mortgage."
Translation: This amendment would expand previously allowed home equity loans to include lines of credit on "reverse mortgages" (granted to seniors on the equity in their homes), so that money could be borrowed against the home equity value as a continuing line of credit. Supporters say it gives flexibility to seniors in need of specific and varying sums; opponents warn of one more opening to unscrupulous lenders to scam seniors of their homesteads.
Proposition 8: "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."
Translation: The state, mineral speculators, and local landowners have been fussing for some years over several thousand acres, which may include survey "vacancies" belonging de facto to the state, in separate tracts near Gilmer and Tyler. Some of the claims have been adjudicated, and some are still pending. The amendment would essentially moot the court cases and cede any state land and mineral rights to current owners of record who were mostly unaware of the title problems. Supporters say this is the fairest solution to the landowners; opponents say it should be left to the courts, not the constitution, especially when the state is potentially ceding any claim to millions in education funds via mineral rights.
Proposition 9: "The constitutional amendment authorizing the Legislature to provide for a six-year term for a board member of a regional mobility authority."
Translation: This amendment is an outgrowth of the battle over toll roads, because a legislative attempt to allow six-year RMA board terms ran legally afoul of a two-year constitutional limitation. Supporters say six-year staggered terms would allow more experience and flexibility on the boards; opponents say longer terms create greater potential for conflicts of interest and give unnecessary power to unelected boards. Why the leap from two years to six (instead of, say, four) is apparently moot.
Registration for the Nov. 8 election ends Monday, Oct. 11, and early voting begins Oct. 24. For much more information on the proposed amendments, see the Secretary of State Web site at www.sos.state.tx.us/elections/voter/2005novconsamend.shtml . More information on the election is also posted there, as well as on the Travis Co. Web site elections division.
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