Early voting starts on 7 changes to Texas Constitution


Highlights

Seven proposed amendments include property tax breaks for spouses of first responders who die on duty.

The Texas Constitution has been amended 491 times since its birth in 1876.

Early voting begins Monday for the chance to tack seven new amendments onto the Texas Constitution, which has already been amended 491 times since its birth in 1876, making it one of the longest such documents in the nation.

The proposed amendment that has gained the most notice is Proposition 6, which would allow tax breaks for the spouses of police, firefighters and emergency workers killed in the line of duty.

Inspired largely by the four Dallas police officers and a transit police officer who were killed by a gunman at a downtown protest in July 2016, the amendment would give surviving spouses a property tax exemption that lasts until they remarry. The maximum value of the exemption would be capped at the home’s value when the first responder was killed, and the exemption would transfer to a new home if the spouse were to move.

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The tax break is a “tangible way Texans can show their gratitude,” Sen. Don Huffines said on the Senate floor in March, when the unanimous Senate approved his bill to create the exemption.

“The bravery shown by these individuals who made the ultimate sacrifice to protect Texans deserves to be recognized and honored,” said Huffines, R-Dallas. “They dedicated themselves to protecting Texans, and when they give their lives for that cause, Texas should protect them in exchange.”

The tax break, also available to those whose spouse died in the past, is modeled on similar exemptions that have been provided to the spouses of soldiers killed in the line of duty since Texas voters approved that constitutional amendment in 2013.

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Early voting ends Nov. 3, and Election Day is Nov. 7, for this year’s crop of proposed amendments, which also include:

Proposition 1 would provide property tax breaks to a disabled veteran or surviving spouse for a home that was donated by a charity — even if the residence was provided at some cost to the veteran. The change would expand an exemption added in 2013 for homes donated at no cost to veterans.

Proposition 2 would make changes to home equity loans, which allow owners to borrow money based on the value of their home. The amendment would lower the cap on loan fees from 3 percent to 2 percent but allow additional fees to be charged; let borrowers refinance home loans and home equity loans into a single loan; allow home equity loans on agricultural land; and reduce restrictions on cash advances with a home equity line of credit.

Proposition 3 would limit the “holdover provision,” which allows governor-appointed officeholders to stay on the job until a replacement is sworn in, even for long-expired terms. The amendment would require expired terms to end when the next regular session of the Legislature ends.

Proposition 4 would require state judges to notify the Texas attorney general any time a lawsuit seeks to overturn a state law. The attorney general would have 45 days to decide whether to intervene to defend the law. This amendment is in response to a 2014 decision by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which said the 45-day notification requirement violated the separation of powers between the legislative and judicial branches of government as required by the Texas Constitution.

Proposition 5 would allow minor league baseball, hockey, soccer and basketball teams to conduct raffles during home games to raise money for charity. The proposition would expand an amendment, approved by voters in 2015, that allowed professional sports teams to conduct charitable raffles.

Proposition 7 would allow banks and credit unions to offer prizes to encourage the use of savings accounts.



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