Monday, October 24, 2005

Our legislators can't seem to come up with enough money for basic education, yet they want over $20 billion to subsidize privately owned rail lines.


ENDORSEMENTS: Early voting begins today

The Daily Texan
Copyright 2005

Today is the first day of early voting in the 2005 Texas Constitutional Amendment Election. This year, the Texas Legislature's wish list consists of nine amendments and their purposes range from reasonable to absurd. The following are the Texan Editorial Board's suggestions for sifting through the jargon-filled ballot:

Proposition 1 - No
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.

The amendment looks to spend around $20 billion over the next 20 years on renovating both public and private rail facilities. It proposes doing this through the use of bonds and the state's general revenue. In a time where our legislators can't seem to come up with enough money to give the state's children a basic education, it seems unreasonable to be subsidizing the rejuvenation of privately-owned rail lines.

Proposition 2 - No!

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 amendment attempts to write close-minded bigotry into our state constitution and needs to be soundly rejected. It is a direct affront, not only to the GLBT community, but to everyone who expects the government to treat all citizens with equal respect. We should always be weary of laws that target one group and do not apply to the entire community. In cases of constitutional amendments, that weariness should turn to vigilance.

Gay marriage is already illegal in Texas. Short of politics and spite, there is no reason continue pushing the point. If you don't vote on another proposition in this election, at least vote against Proposition 2.

Proposition 3 - Yes

Clarifying that certain economic development programs do not constitute a debt.

HJR 80 clarifies Section 52-a, Article III of the Texas Constitution, which authorizes the Legislature to provide for the use of public money for economic development purposes. It will grant the Legislature authority to create statutory programs for economic grants and loans. HJR 80 will help provide a variety of economic development programs that attract new business, resulting in increased employment and tax revenue for cities across Texas.

Proposition 4 - No

Authorizing the denial of bail to a criminal defendant who violates a condition of the defendant's release pending trial.

This amendment will add to the list of circumstances for which a judge can revoke bail for a defendant. Under the Texas Constitution, a district judge may deny bail before a trial to a person accused of a felony other than a capital felony in three instances: if the person has two or more prior felony convictions, if the felony was committed while on bail for a prior felony, or if the felony involved the use of a deadly weapon and the person has a prior felony conviction. Under SJR 17, if the state can prove an accused person violated one or more provisions for bail relating to the safety of a victim or the general community, a district judge can revoke bail.

This amendment puts denial of bail in the hands of a judge. The amendment doesn't specify what constitutes violating bail related to the safety of the community or victim. Therefore, a judge's bias on what constitutes a violation of bail has a wide spectrum of possibilities and grants a large amount of power of a judge over a defendant.

Proposition 5 - No

Allowing the Legislature to define rates of interest for commercial loans.

Seemingly the only purpose for this amendment is to try and lure large banks to headquarter in Texas. The amendment would allow the state's interest ceilings - which are in place to protect borrowers from usury - to be removed for certain "large commercial loans." Banks from outside the state are already allowed to charge higher than ceiling interest rates in Texas. Exempting large loans from the ceiling would potentially attract larger banks to move here, but in doing so it would make it necessary for smaller banks to receive exemptions as well. This looks like a first step toward totally eliminating the state's interest ceilings which would be bad news for borrowers.

Proposition 6 - Yes

To include one additional public member and a constitutional county court judge in the membership of the State Commission on Judicial Conduct.

The State Commission on Judicial Conduct is responsible for investigating allegations of judicial misconduct and for disciplining judges. Eleven members currently serve a six-year term on the commission, four of whom are citizens and are not licensed to practice law or hold public office.

Two additional members will provide for greater professional diversity on the commission. Diversity increases the variety of perspectives on each issue the commission will examine and will provide a more holistic ruling. Increasing the diversity of the commission will also increase the fairness and integrity of the investigation and disciplinary processes of judges.

Proposition 7 - Yes

Authorizing line-of-credit advances under a reverse mortgage.

Under current Texas law, senior homeowners (age 62 or older) are only allowed to receive reverse mortgage advances in one lump sum or in equal monthly payments. This amendment would allow senior homeowners to take advances from their reverse mortgage as the money is needed, in whatever increments they see fit. This gives seniors more freedom in determining how they will use their mortgages, and is already legal in every other state. Opponents of this amendment argue it will give lenders an easier way to exploit the seniors it claims to help. But the line-of-credit option could actually allow seniors to accrue less debt.

Proposition 8 - No

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 and Smith Counties.

The proposed amendment is limited to specific territorial land disputes in Upshur and Smith Counties and would have no impact on any other land dispute involving the state. The dispute should be settled in court. If the amendment sets no precedent for land disputes in other Texas counties, the battle with Upshur and Smith should not be decided by citizens who don't live in those counties.

Proposition 9 - No

Authorizing the Legislature to provide a six-year term for a board member of a regional mobility authority.

Regional mobility authorities are political subdivisions that "finance, acquire, design, construct, operate, maintain, expand or extend transportation projects." Under current Texas law, the RMA board members serve for two years each. Given that transportation projects typically last many years, it makes sense to increase the term-limit of such members to help facilitate these long projects. However, we feel six years might be too long. Short term limits are important, because long-term members have more time to be corrupted by transportation special interest groups. We would prefer the difficulty of short term limits to the potential for abuse that six year terms could lead to.

© 2005 The Daily Texan