87th LegislatureElections 2021HealthcareIssuesState HouseState SenateTaxes & SpendingTexas Voters Deciding Propositions on Religious Liberty, Gambling at Rodeos, Essential Caregiver Protections

Election Day is Tuesday, November 2, when Texans will vote on eight proposed amendments to the Texas Constitution.
October 20, 2021
Texas voters are heading to the polls to resolve eight questions put to them by the Texas legislature. 

Monday, October 18 was the first day of early voting, which will last until Friday, October 29. Election Day is November 2.

The legislature passed eight proposed constitutional amendments during the regular session, which are statewide ballot measures that require a majority vote.

Proposition 1 (Charitable Raffles at Rodeos)

Ballot Language: “The constitutional amendment authorizing the professional sports team charitable foundations of organizations sanctioned by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association or the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association to conduct charitable raffles at rodeo venues.”

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While there was little movement on loosening gambling laws during the 87th legislature’s regular session, lawmakers did pass House Joint Resolution (HJR) 143, which would allow the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association or the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association to organize charitable raffles at rodeos.

The Texas Constitution already allows charitable raffles to a degree. Reflecting the legislature’s favorable treatment of gambling when it has a charitable component, the Texas Lottery also touts its contributions to education and veterans’ causes.

The Texas House passed the legislation by a vote of 123 to 17, with opponents such as Reps. Briscoe Cain (R-Deer Park), Matt Schaefer (R-Tyler), Bryan Slaton (R-Royse City), Tony Tinderholt (R-Arlington), and Valoree Swanson (R-Spring).

Sens. Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury) and Bob Hall (R-Edgewood) were the lone votes against the joint resolution in the Senate.

Swanson, who is a member of the Texas Freedom Caucus, opposed the proposal on behalf of the caucus on the grounds that it “helps chip away at the prohibition on gambling in Texas.”

Though most forms of gambling are prohibited in Texas, the state’s lottery enjoyed record-breaking sales in the most recent fiscal year.

Proposition 2 (Transportation Debt Incurred by Counties)

Ballot Language: “The constitutional amendment authorizing a county to finance the development or redevelopment of transportation or infrastructure in unproductive, underdeveloped, or blighted areas in the county.”

In short, counties would be allowed to go into debt to pay for transportation projects and raise taxes to pay off that debt. Cities are already permitted to do this, such as when the City of Austin authorized billions of dollars in debt for light rail and other transportation projects.

Amid Texas’ rapidly increasing population presenting new transportation needs, this amendment would include counties in an existing constitutional provision that gives the legislature the power to authorize local governments to use bonds to pay for certain transportation projects. However, the amendment stipulates that bonds cannot be used to pay for the construction of “rights-of-way of a toll road.”

The amendment also stipulates that counties could not use more than 65 percent of a tax increase to pay off bond debt.

Bonds by local governments are frequently pitched as investments in the future and necessary for economic development. In some cases, bonds have even been offered as a way to achieve “racial equity” by increasing spending in neighborhoods with a greater population of racial minorities.

Explicitly permitting counties to issue their own bonds for transportation and infrastructure in this manner could be viewed as a way to place residents in unincorporated areas on the same playing field as residents of cities.

HJR 99 was given final passage in the Senate by a vote of 27 to 4 and passed third reading in the House by a vote of 126 to 13.

Rep. Mayes Middleton (R-Wallisville), the chair of the Texas Freedom Caucus, pointed to the debt load local governments already have.

“More local government debt and higher property taxes are the last thing Texans need, but that’s exactly what the proposition will do,” Middleton remarked.

He added that Texans should “focus on cutting property taxes” and avoid “giving government new tools to raise them.”

Proposition 3 (Religious Freedom)

Ballot Language: “The constitutional amendment to prohibit this state or a political subdivision of this state from prohibiting or limiting religious services of religious organizations.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many jurisdictions in Texas placed restrictions on the ability of churches to gather for in-person worship services. Many found the development to be an unnerving encroachment on religious liberty that was not justified by a public health emergency.

In response, the Texas legislature passed Senate Joint Resolution (SJR) 27, which proposes a constitutional amendment that would prohibit limitations on religious services under virtually any circumstance.

The proposed amendment received bipartisan support. Sens. Nathan Johnson (D-Dallas) and Sarah Eckhardt (D-Austin) were the only ones to vote “nay” in the Senate, while it passed the House by a vote of 108 to 33.

Proposition 4 (Eligibility Requirements for Judges)

Ballot Language: “The constitutional amendment changing the eligibility requirements for a justice of the supreme court, a judge of the court of criminal appeals, a justice of a court of appeals, and a district judge.”

Texas has two courts of last resort — the Texas Supreme Court and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. The Supreme Court handles civil cases and juvenile justice matters while the Court of Criminal Appeals is the highest court that considers adult criminal cases.

This amendment would tighten the eligibility requirements for these two courts as well as courts of appeals. Attorneys would be required to practice law in Texas for a minimum of 10 years or serve a combined total of 10 years on Texas lower courts before being eligible to serve on the Supreme Court, Court of Criminal Appeals, or a Court of Appeals. Candidates would also have to be a resident of Texas on Election Day.

Under the proposal, district judges will also have to practice law for a minimum of eight years or have a combined total of eight years experience practicing law and serving as a judge in Texas. The residency requirement would also apply to candidates for district judge, who would not be allowed to serve if they had any suspensions or revocations of their licenses.

SJR 47 passed by 120 to 19 in the House and 30 to 1 in the Senate. While this amendment requires more experience to be a judge, as with any type of eligibility requirements to run for office, the trade-off is an otherwise favorable candidate may be disqualified.

Proposition 5 (State Commission on Judicial Conduct)

Ballot Language: “The constitutional amendment providing additional powers to the State Commission on Judicial Conduct with respect to candidates for judicial office.”

HJR 165 passed both the House and Senate unanimously. The proposal would extend the authority of the State Commission on Judicial Conduct (SCJC) to candidates running for judicial office rather than judicial office holders only. 

The Texas Constitution would be amended to place candidates on the same playing field as elected judges in terms of ethics complaints and disciplinary procedures by the SCJC.

Proposition 6 (Essential Caregivers)

Ballot Language: “The constitutional amendment establishing a right for residents of certain facilities to designate an essential caregiver for in-person visitation.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many Texans were cut off from loved ones residing in nursing homes and long-term care facilities.

The isolation of elderly and disabled individuals during the pandemic has been a source of grief for families throughout Texas. Per Governor Greg Abbott’s pandemic order, visitation to nursing home facilities were not allowed for much of 2020 unless the resident was on their deathbed.

SJR 19 would make it a constitutional right in Texas for a resident of a long-term care facility or nursing home to appoint someone an essential caregiver. The essential caregiver could not be legally denied access to the resident who designated them an essential caregiver. 

However, the amendment stipulates that the legislature may enact “guidelines for a facility, resident, or center described by Subsection (a) of this section to follow in establishing essential caregiver visitation policies and procedures.”

The subsection in question lists nursing facilities, assisted living facilities, intermediate care facilities for people with intellectual disabilities, residences providing home and “community-based services,” and state-supported living centers as being covered by the amendment.

Rep. Gina Hinojosa (D-Austin) was the only one in the legislature to vote against the proposed amendment.

Proposition 7 (Property Tax Exemption)

Ballot Language: “The constitutional amendment to allow the surviving spouse of a person who is disabled to receive a limitation on the school district ad valorem taxes on the spouse’s residence homestead if the spouse is 55 years of age or older at the time of the person’s death.”

Proposition 7 extends a tax break to the spouses of those who were receiving an exemption from part of their property taxes due to a disability at the time of their deaths. 

HJR 125 passed both chambers of the legislature unanimously.

Proposition 8 (Property Tax Exemption)

Ballot Language: “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 member of the armed services of the United States who is killed or fatally injured in the line of duty.”

This proposition expands a property tax exemption that already applies to the surviving spouses of service members killed in combat. The Texas Constitution would be amended to include anyone killed or “fatally injured” in the line of duty, which would include “non combat-related injuries,” according to the Secretary of State’s summary.

During the final votes on SJR 35, the legislation enjoyed unanimous support in the House and Sen. Nathan Johnson (D-Dallas) was the only opposing vote in the Senate.

A document containing the ballot language for each constitutional proposition can be found below.


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Hayden Sparks

Hayden Sparks is a senior reporter for The Texan and a lifelong resident of the Lone Star State. He has coached competitive speech and debate and has been involved in politics since a young age. One of Hayden's favorite quotes is by Sam Houston: "Texas has yet to learn submission to any oppression, come from what source it may."