TagTexas Constitution

Texas State Legislature sends 13 ballot measures to the November ballot during its regular session—the most since 2007

Texas voters will decide on 13 constitutional amendments this November—the most since 2007 when voters decided on 17 measures on two election dates. The average number of measures appearing on Texas odd-numbered-year ballots was 14 between 1985 and 2021. The year with the highest number of measures was 1987 with 25 on one election date.

The state legislature adjourned its regular session on May 29, taking final votes on four of the 13 amendments over the weekend. The final additions to the ballot relate to creating a state broadband infrastructure fund; creating a state energy fund to modernize electric generation facilities; creating a state water fund to finance water projects; and renaming the National Research University Fund to the Texas University Fund and establishing an ongoing revenue source from the accrued interest of the rainy day fund.

The nine other previously certified amendments relate to:

  1. issuing bonds for conservation districts in El Paso County;
  2. establishing a right to farming and ranching;
  3. increasing the mandatory retirement age for state judges and justices;
  4. abolishing the office of Galveston County treasurer;
  5. providing for tax exemptions on medical equipment and inventory;
  6. prohibiting a wealth or net worth tax;
  7. providing for tax exemptions on childcare facilities;
  8. creating the Centennial Parks Conservation Fund; and
  9. providing cost-of-living adjustments for annuitants of the Teacher Retirement System.

The state legislature convened on Jan. 10. The Texas State Legislature is one of 16 states that requires a two-thirds vote in each legislative chamber—100 votes in the House and 21 votes in the Senate (assuming no vacancies)—during one legislative session to refer a constitutional amendment to the ballot. During the 2023 legislative session, legislators introduced 297 constitutional amendments, of which 47 passed at least one chamber. This compares to 218 introduced constitutional amendments with 16 passing at least one chamber in 2021 and 216 amendments with 19 passing at least one chamber in 2019.

One 2023 amendment that would have stated that only citizens could vote in Texas passed the Senate but failed in the House by a vote of 88-0 with 54 present and not voting.

Excluding the four newest additions to the ballot that do not have official vote totals yet, the average number of yes votes in both chambers for amendments on the 2023 ballot was 150. This is lower than the average yes votes received by amendments appearing on even and odd-numbered year ballots in Texas between 1995 and 2022, which was 164 votes.

The 2023 right-to-farm amendment received the most yes votes with 175. The amendment to prohibit a wealth or net worth tax received the fewest yes votes with 123—surpassing the two-thirds supermajority threshold by one vote in both chambers.

During the 2023 legislative session, Republicans controlled both chambers of the state legislature, as well as the governor’s office, making Texas a Republican trifecta. At the general election on November 8, 2022, Republicans retained control of the House and Senate, increased their 86-64 majority in the House, and gained one seat in the Senate. The new majority in the Senate following the election was 19-12. Changes in the state have impacted the prospects of constitutional amendments making the ballot. Republicans held 21 seats in the state Senate in 2018, which was enough to pass a constitutional amendment without support from Democrats. In 2023, Republicans held 19 seats, meaning at least two Democrats were needed to pass a constitutional amendment in the state Senate. 

Gov. Greg Abbott (R) called a special session that convened on May 29 to address property taxes and the border. During the regular session, the Senate introduced a constitutional amendment to increase the homestead exemption from $40,000 to $70,000, which was amended by the House to $100,000. However, the two chambers did not pass a final version of the amendment prior to the regular session adjournment.

Gov. Abbott last called for a special legislative session in August 2021 that resulted in the placement of two constitutional amendments on the May 2022 ballot—the first even-numbered year statewide measures since 2014.

In Texas, a total of 281 ballot measures appeared on statewide ballots between 1985 and 2022. Two hundred forty-eight ballot measures were approved, and 33 ballot measures were defeated.

Texans to decide constitutional amendment on cost-of-living adjustments for Teacher Retirement System in November

On May 25, the Texas Legislature took the final vote to send a constitutional amendment to the ballot that would authorize the legislature to provide for cost-of-living adjustments (COLA) for certain annuitants, who meet criteria provided by law, of the Teacher Retirement System of Texas. The amendment also authorizes the legislature to allocate money from the general fund to pay for the adjustment.

The amendment, House Joint Resolution 2 (HJR 2), passed the state House by a vote of 147-0 with three not voting on April 28. The state Senate passed an amended version of HJR 2 on May 22 by a vote of 31-0. The state House concurred on May 25 by a vote of 140-0 with nine not voting.

The implementing legislation, Senate Bill 10 (SB 10), passed the state Senate, was amended by the state House, and is headed to a conference between the chambers after the Senate did not concur with the House amendments. Under the House amended version of SB 10, annuitants would receive an annual gain sharing cost-­of­-living adjustment not to exceed 2% annually and contingent upon a five-year average pension fund investment return of 7%. The gain-sharing cost-of-living adjustment would take effect in Sept. 2028 and apply to annuitants who have been retired for at least three state fiscal years. The amended bill would also provide for a one-time cost-of-living adjustment in Jan. 2024. The rate would vary by the amount of time an annuitant has been retired ranging from 2% to 6% of a cost-of-living adjustment.

The Teacher Retirement System is considered actuarially sound with an authorization period of 27 years according to the Pension Review Board.

Legislative Chair for the Texas Retired Teachers Association Ricky Chandler said, “I think it’ll be a big help especially to the retired teachers and staff, not only teachers but everybody that’s a school employee.” He also said, “The inflation has really hurt teachers and employees that have retired years and years ago, some of them are just barely making it.”

Nicole Hill, communications director for the Texas American Federation of Teachers, said, “Good news is we saw movement, and we haven’t seen that in years,” she said. “But it just doesn’t go far enough. This is essentially crumbs.”

This is the ninth amendment to be certified for statewide ballots in Texas for Nov. 2023. Between 1985 and 2021, an average of 14 measures appeared on statewide ballots in odd-numbered-year elections in Texas.

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Texas Legislature sends property tax exemption for medical equipment and inventory to November ballot

The Texas State Legislature voted to send a constitutional amendment that would authorize the legislature to provide for a property tax exemption on equipment and inventory manufactured by medical or biomedical companies to the November ballot. The legislature also passed the enabling legislation, Senate Bill 2289 (SB 2289), which would take effect if the amendment is passed in Nov. 2023.

SB 2289 defines medical and biomedical property as “tangible personal property that is stored, used, or consumed in the manufacturing or processing of medical or biomedical products by a medical or biomedical manufacturer.” This would include devices, therapeutics, pharmaceuticals, personal protective equipment, instruments, implants, and manufacturing inventories, including finished goods.

This amendment was introduced as Senate Joint Resolution 87 (SJR 87) on March 10. To put a legislatively referred constitutional amendment before voters, a two-thirds (66.67%) vote was required in both chambers. On April 13, the state Senate passed SJR 87 by a vote of 26-4 with one absent. On May 17, the state House passed SJR 87 by a vote of 125-10 with 14 not voting and one vacancy.

Sen. Joan Huffman (R-17) authored the amendment. The Texas Medical Center, Texas Healthcare and Bioscience Institute, Greater Houston Partnership, and Biotechnology Innovation Organization registered in support of the amendment when it was considered by the Senate Finance Committee. No organizations registered in opposition to it.

This is the fifth amendment to be referred to the November ballot. The state legislature has also voted to refer amendments related to issuing bonds for conservation districts in El Paso County; establishing a right to farming and ranching; increasing the mandatory retirement age for state judges and justices; and abolishing the office of Galveston County treasurer.

Between 1995 and 2022, Texans decided on 179 measures. Ballot measures related to taxes were the most common during that period with 41 measures followed by bonds (21) and measures related to the administration of government (16).

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An amendment to abolish a county treasurer in Texas is set to appear on the November ballot for the first time since 1987

The Texas Constitution provides that the office of county treasurer may be abolished via a constitutional amendment. Galveston County may be the next county to join nine others that previously abolished the office of treasurer in November. The last time Texans decided on such an amendment was in 1987 with the abolition of county treasurers in Gregg, Fayaette, and Nueces counties. It was approved with 69% of the vote.

In his 2022 campaign, Hank Dugie, the current Galveston County treasurer, called for eliminating the office. “My campaign centered around the idea that the office is a waste, taxpayers could save money if we abolished it. It’s really not a needed position anymore. It doesn’t provide any extra level of protection for taxpayers, all it does is cost them dollars,” Dugie said. 

On Dec. 23, 2022, the Galveston County Commissioners Court voted unanimously in support of abolishing the office.

Besides eliminating the county treasurer, the amendment also authorizes the county to employ or contract a qualified person or designate another county officer to fulfill the functions previously performed by the treasurer.

Two versions of the amendment were introduced in the state House and state Senate. Senate Joint Resolution 28 was introduced on Jan. 12, 2023. On April 4, 2023, the state Senate passed SJR 28 by a vote of 28-3. House Joint Resolution 134 was introduced on March 13 and was passed on May 10 by a vote of 106-32 with 11 not voting and one vacancy. HJR 134 was passed in the state Senate on May 16 by a vote of 27-4. HJR 134 was the certified version sent to the ballot.

A simple majority vote is required statewide and in Galveston County for the approval of the amendment.

The other six counties that have abolished their respective county treasurer offices are Andrews, Bee, Bexar, Colin, El Paso, and Tarrant counties.

Four measures are certified for the November ballot in Texas. Between 1995 and 2021, Texans decided on 175 statewide constitutional amendments appearing on odd-numbered year ballots with an average of nearly 13 measures per election. Voters approved 160 measures and defeated 15.

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Texans to vote on right to farm, ranch, timber production, horticulture, and wildlife management in November

The Texas State Legislature voted to send a constitutional amendment establishing a right to farm, ranch, timber production, horticulture, and wildlife management on a person’s owned or leased property to the Nov. 2023 ballot. The amendment states that the right does not preclude the state legislature from passing laws to regulate farming, ranching, timber production, horticulture, or wildlife management practices to protect public health and safety, prevent danger to animals or crop production, or preserve the natural resources of the state.

The amendment was proposed as House Joint Resolution 126 on Feb. 24, 2023. The amendment received no opposition votes in the legislature. The state House passed HJR 126 by a vote of 144-0 with six not voting on April 10. The state Senate passed HJR 126 by a vote of 31-0 on May 4.

The amendment was authored by Reps. DeWayne Burns (R-58), Dustin Burrows (R-83), Mary Gonzalez (D-75), Trent Ashby (R-9), and Diego Bernal (D-123). In the authors’ statement of intent included with the amendment, they wrote, “Farmers and ranchers who engage in production agriculture within municipal boundaries are being subjected to broad overregulation by municipal ordinances that prohibit and greatly restrict normal practices of agricultural operations, such as the raising and keeping of livestock, the production of hay, and the cultivation of certain row crops. H.J.R. 126 seeks to address this issue and empower landowners in the state by constitutionally protecting their right to engage in certain generally accepted agricultural practices on their own property.”

The Texas Farm Bureau, Texas Poultry Federation, Texas Landowners Council, Texas Forestry Association, and Texas Wildlife Association were among those that registered in support of the amendment.

Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance and the Humane Society registered in opposition to the amendment.

Texas passed a right-to-farm statute in 1981. The law limits the circumstances under which an agricultural operation may be considered a nuisance. Agricultural operations include soil cultivation, farming, animal feed, planting seeds, floriculture, viticulture, horticulture, silviculture, wildlife management, raising livestock, and grain storage facilities.

Two other states—Missouri and North Dakota—have adopted right-to-farm constitutional amendments. Voters in Missouri adopted the legislatively referred constitutional amendment in Aug. 2014 by a vote of 50.12% to 49.88%. North Dakotans adopted the citizen-initiated amendment in 2012 by a vote of 66.89% to 33.11%. In 2016, Oklahomans defeated a similar amendment placed on the ballot by the legislature by a vote of 60.29% to 39.71%.

In 2021, Maine approved a first-of-its-kind right to produce, harvest, and consume food amendment. It was approved with 60.84% of the vote.

In Nov., Texas voters will also be deciding on an amendment to authorize the state legislature to permit conservation and reclamation districts in El Paso County to issue bonds to fund parks and recreational facilities.

As of May 5, 36 constitutional amendments have received at least one vote by a chamber of the state legislature. Texas is one of 16 states that requires a two-thirds vote in each legislative chamber during one legislative session to refer a constitutional amendment to the ballot. During the 2021 legislative session, 18 constitutional amendments received at least one vote by a chamber with eight measures certified for the ballot. In 2019, 19 constitutional amendments received at least one vote with 10 measures ultimately making the ballot.

The state legislature is set to adjourn on May 29.

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