Stories about Texas

Austin initiative to decriminalize marijuana and prohibit no-knock warrants submitted over 20,000 valid signatures to qualify for the ballot

Photo of the skyline of Austin, Texas

On Jan. 10, the Austin City Clerk announced that an initiative to decriminalize marijuana and prohibit no-knock warrants had qualified for the ballot. Proponents submitted over 20,000 valid signatures meeting the required number to appear on the local ballot. The clerk used a random sampling method of 25% of signatures submitted or 8,334 raw signatures to determine the signature validity of the petition. The signature validity rate according to the random sampling was 70.5%.

The city council now has 10 days to adopt the proposed charter amendment outright or vote to send it to the May 7 ballot.

The campaign, Ground Game Texas, announced they had collected nearly 35,000 signatures in November 2021. Mike Siegel, political director of Ground Game Texas, said, “With the certification of the Austin Freedom Act, voters in Austin will soon have the ability to use their vote to end the criminalization of cannabis in their community and eliminate the dangerous practice of no-knock warrants by Austin police.”

Chapter 1 of the proposed initiative would prohibit Austin police from issuing any citations or making any arrests for misdemeanor marijuana possession offenses, so long as the offenses are not involved in the investigation of a narcotics-related case designated as a high priority or a violent felony case. Austin police officers would be able to seize marijuana if they have probable cause to believe that an individual possesses it, but they must write up a full report and are not permitted to detain the individual if marijuana possession is the sole charge. The initiative would also prohibit police officers from issuing citations for possessions of drug residue or paraphernalia.

Chapter 2 of the proposed initiative would prohibit Austin police from requesting, executing, or participating in a no-knock search warrant. The initiative would define a no-knock search warrant as “any search warrant that does not require the officer to knock and announce their presence and wait at least 15 seconds prior to execution.” 

Supporters of the initiative include former U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, gubernatorial candidate and former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D), former State Rep. Wendy Davis (D), Austin City Councilmember Greg Casar (D), and Austin City Councilmember Vanessa Fuentes (Nonpartisan).

Since 2020, Ballotpedia has tracked 32 notable local police-related ballot measures. In 2020, voters approved 20 local police-related ballot measures in 10 cities and four counties within seven states. Two were overturned after the election. In 2021, voters approved seven of 12 local police-related ballot measures in 10 cities and one county within nine states. Among the approved measures was a ban on no-knock warrants in Pittsburgh that was approved with 81.16% of the vote.

Texas State Rep. Ryan Guillen leaves Democratic Party, announces bid for re-election as a Republican

On Nov. 15, 2021, Texas State Rep. Ryan Guillen (R) announced he was leaving the Democratic Party.

“After much thought and much prayer with my family, today I am announcing that I’ll proudly be running as a Republican to represent house district 31,” Guillen said in a press conference held with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) and House Speaker Dade Phelan (R).

Guillen most recently won reelection in 2020, defeating Marian Knowlton (R) 58.4% to 41.6%.

He first assumed office in 2003, when he ran in the general election unopposed. 

As of November 2021, Ballotpedia has counted 146 state legislators who have switched parties since 1994. Ballotpedia has counted 39 state senators who have switched parties and 107 state representatives. Fifty-three state representatives have switched parties from Democrat to Republican, and 75 state lawmakers have switched parties in total. 

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Texas Gov. Abbott appoints state supreme court justice

Texas Gov. Gregg Abbott (R) appointed Evan Young to the Texas State Supreme court on Nov. 1, 2021. Young assumed office on Nov. 9. Young’s appointment fills the vacancy created by Eva Guzman, who resigned from the court in June 2021 to run for Texas attorney general. 

Under Texas law, the governor appoints a replacement to the Texas Supreme Court in the event of a midterm vacancy. The Texas State Senate must then confirm the nominee. Appointees serve until the next general election, in which they must participate in a partisan election to remain on the bench for the remainder of the unexpired term. 

Before his appointment to the Texas Supreme Court, Young worked as a clerk to Judge Harvie Wilkinson on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit and to Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Young received a bachelor’s degree from Duke University and from Oxford University. He received a J.D. from Yale Law School.

In 2021, there have been 18 supreme court vacancies in 16 of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. Seventeen of the vacancies have been caused by retirements, and one vacancy was caused by a justice’s death. To date, 14 of those vacancies have been filled.

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Texas voters approve all eight constitutional amendments

All eight constitutional amendments in Texas were approved on Tuesday. 

With 100% of precincts reporting, Proposition 1 was approved with 83.82% of the vote. The amendment authorizes professional sports team charitable foundations to conduct raffles at rodeo venues and includes professional association-sanctioned rodeos in the definition of a professional sports team.

Proposition 2 was approved with 63.21% of the vote. Proposition 2

  • authorizes counties to issue bonds to fund transportation and infrastructure projects in blighted areas;
  • prohibits counties from allocating more than 65% of property tax revenue increases annually to repay the bonds; and
  • prohibits counties from using the funds from the issuance of the bonds to build a toll road.

Prior to the election, only cities and towns could issue bonds to fund transportation projects in blighted areas.

Proposition 3 was approved with 62.69% of the vote. The amendment was one of two on the ballot that related to coronavirus pandemic regulations. Proposition 3 amended the state constitution to prohibit the state or any political subdivision from enacting a law, rule, order, or proclamation that limits religious services or organizations.

The other coronavirus-related amendment was Proposition 6, which was approved by 87.81% of voters. Proposition 6 is a first-of-its-kind amendment that establishes a right for residents of nursing or assisted living facilities to designate an essential caregiver, who cannot be prohibited from in-person visitation.

Propositions 4 and 5, which both addressed changes to the state judiciary system, were approved with 58.78% and 59.15%, respectively. Proposition 4 makes changes to 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. Proposition 5 adds a section to the state constitution that authorizes the State Commission on Judicial Conduct to investigate and discipline candidates seeking state judicial office in the same manner as judicial officeholders.

Propositions 7 and 8, which both addressed taxes, were approved by 87.12% and 87.76%, respectively. Proposition 7 amends the state constitution to allow the legislature to extend a homestead tax limit for surviving spouses of disabled individuals as long as the spouse is 55 years old and resides at the home. Proposition 8 allows the legislature to provide a homestead property tax exemption for the surviving spouse of a military member “killed or fatally injured in the line of duty.” Prior to the election, the exemption only applied to spouses of a military member “killed in action.”

Between 1995 and 2021, Texas voters approved 162 of 177 amendments (91.5%) appearing on statewide ballots.

Republicans flip TX HD 118 in special election on Nov. 2

Republicans picked up a seat in the Texas House of Representatives on Nov. 2. In a special general runoff election in District 118, John Lujan (R) defeated Frank Ramirez (D) 51.2 percent to 48.8 percent. Once Lujan is sworn in, Republicans will hold an 84-66 majority in the chamber.

District 118 is located in San Antonio and is about 75% Hispanic, according to The Texas Tribune. In previous federal and statewide races, the district had voted for Democrats. Joe Biden won by 14 points in 2020, Hillary Clinton won by 15 points in 2016, and Barack Obama won by 12 points in 2012. Beto O’Rourke carried the district in the 2018 U.S. Senate election by 20 points and Lupe Valdez carried the district in the 2018 gubernatorial election by 7 points.

Lujan represented the district following his victory in a special election in 2015 before losing his re-election bid in 2016. Lujan also ran unsuccessfully for the seat in 2018.

As of Nov. 2, 65 state legislative special elections were scheduled or had taken place in 2021. Including this race, five seats have changed partisan hands in 2021. Two seats flipped from Republican control to Democratic control, while three seats flipped from Democratic control to Republican control.

Campaigns supporting and opposing Austin Proposition A report an additional $2 million in contributions 

On Nov. 2, voters in Austin, Texas will decide on Proposition A, an initiative designed to enact changes to police staffing, training, and demographic representation. The initiative would establish minimum police staffing and require there to be at least two police officers for every 1,000 residents of Austin; add an additional 40 hours of police training each year on topics such as active shooter scenarios, critical thinking, and defensive tactics; and provide police with additional compensation for being proficient in non-English languages, enrolling in cadet mentoring programs, and being recognized for honorable conduct.

Save Austin Now, the committee registered in support of Austin Proposition A, reported receiving over $1 million in contributions according to the latest campaign finance report filed Oct. 25. The top five donors to the campaign were Charles Maund Toyota ($100,000), America 2076 ($100,000), and Danielle Royston ($98,000).

Governor Greg Abbott (R) tweeted his support for the measure saying, “Defunding police has been a disaster in cities across the country. Austinites – vote FOR Prop A to support law enforcement & keep your community safe.”

Save Austin Now sponsored Proposition B, which voters approved on May 1, 2021. Proposition B criminalized sitting, lying down, or camping in public places and prohibited solicitation at specific hours and locations. Matt Mackowiak, the chairperson of the Travis County Republican Party, co-founded Save Austin Now with Cleo Petricek, a registered Democrat. Ken Casaday, president of the Austin Police Association, is a board member for Save Austin Now.

Equity PAC, the committee leading the No Way on Prop A campaign, also reported receiving over $1 million in contributions in its latest report. The top four donors to the campaign were Open Society Policy Center ($500,000), The Fairness Project ($250,526), Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies ($100,000), and the Sixteen Thirty Fund ($100,000).

In an op-ed in the Austin American-Statesman, Mayor Steve Adler said, “Prop A is recklessly simplistic — and a threat to Austin’s public safety and fiscal health. Our current police department budget is the highest in Austin’s history, with $10 million more than required by state law. In fact, we pay more for policing per capita than any other major city in Texas.”

Ballotpedia is tracking six notable local police-related ballot measures, including Austin Proposition A, that voters will decide on Nov. 2, 2021. Others on the ballot include Minneapolis, Minnesota, Question 2, and Cleveland, Ohio, Issue 24.

Texas enacts new state legislative district maps

Texas enacted new state legislative districts on October 25, 2021, when Gov. Greg Abbott (R) signed proposals approved by the Texas House and Senate into law. These maps will take effect for Texas’ 2022 state legislative elections.

The Senate Redistricting Committee released a draft of a Senate legislative map on September 18, 2021. A Senate panel advanced the proposal to the full Senate for debate on Sept. 28. The Senate approved an amended version in a 20-11 vote on Oct. 4. On Oct. 13, the House approved an amended version of a House map proposal introduced on Sept. 30 with a vote split along party lines.

The House and Senate approved maps for each other’s districts on Oct. 15. The House approved the Senate map by an 81-60 vote, and the Senate approved the House map by an 18-13 vote. Gov. Abbott signed both maps into law on Oct. 25.

Lt. Gov Dan Patrick (R) said of the Senate map, “This map illustrates our commitment to making sure every Texan is well-represented in their state Legislature and their voices are heard.” State Rep. Rafael Anchia (D) said the Senate proposal did not adequately reflect the racial composition of the state. “There are nearly three times as many districts that are majority white compared to majority Hispanic,” Anchia said.

State Rep. Todd Hunter (R) said the House map “achieves fair representation for the citizens of Texas.” State Sen. Eddie Lucio (D) criticized revisions to the House districts in the Rio Grande Valley, saying, “In my time in the Legislature, I have never seen such blatant disregard for the process.”

As of October 26, 2021, eight states have adopted legislative maps, one state’s legislative map is awaiting approval by the state supreme court, one state enacted its legislative boundaries based on Census estimates which will be revised in an upcoming special session, and 40 states have not yet adopted legislative redistricting plans after the 2020 census. At this point in the 2010 redistricting cycle, 26 states had enacted state legislative maps.

Nationwide, legislative redistricting has been completed for 304 of 1,972 state Senate seats (15.4%) and 758 of 5,411 state House seats (14%).

Texas enacts new congressional districts

Texas enacted new congressional districts on October 25, 2021, when Gov. Greg Abbott (R) signed a proposal approved by the Texas House and Senate into law. This map will take effect for Texas’ 2022 congressional elections.

Sen. Joan Huffman (R) proposed a congressional map on September 27, 2021, and the Senate approved an amended version on Oct. 8. On Oct. 13, the House Redistricting Committee approved an amended version of the map. The legislature approved a final version of the map on Oct. 18. The Senate approved the bill 18-13, and the House approved the bill 84-59. Gov. Greg Abbott (R) signed the map into law on Oct. 25.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) said, “This map displays our collective commitment to making sure every Texan’s voice is heard in Washington, D.C. I want to thank all 31 senators for their hard work, and especially Sen. Huffman for her leadership throughout the redistricting process.”

State Sen. Jose Menendez (D) said the proposed map of congressional districts failed to acknowledge that “people of color…all deserve equal representation.” “We cannot continue to govern without addressing the fact that race matters. Race exists. We had 95% growth in minorities, and we have no new minority opportunity districts, and that is simply wrong,” Menéndez said.

As of Oct. 26, six states have adopted congressional maps, one state’s congressional map is awaiting approval by the state supreme court, six states were apportioned one congressional district (so no congressional redistricting is required), and 37 states have not yet adopted congressional maps after the 2020 census. Congressional redistricting has been completed for 66 of the 435 seats (15.2%) in the U.S. House of Representatives.

At this point in the 2010 redistricting cycle, 24 states had enacted new congressional maps.

All candidates for Houston Independent School District school board District I seat complete Ballotpedia’s Candidate Connection survey

All three candidates running for the District I seat on the Houston Independent School District board of education have completed Ballotpedia’s Candidate Connection survey. The survey asks candidates questions aimed to help voters learn why candidates are running and what they hope to achieve in office.

Three candidates—incumbent Elizabeth Santos, Matias Kopinsky, and Janette Garza Lindner—are running in the Nov. 2 nonpartisan general election for the District I seat. Five seats on the board are up for election this year: Districts I, V, VI, VII, and IX.  

Excerpts from candidates’ responses to the question, “What areas of public policy are you personally passionate about?” are listed below: 

  1. Elizabeth Santos: “I am passionate about demanding that all students have the opportunity to enrich their lives through public education. Our district–like many throughout the state–has structural barriers in its policy that prevent the stable development of arts programs in schools.” 
  2. Matias Kopinsky: “While the current HISD trustees have been responsible for a $2 billion budget, only half of that money has ever seen the classroom. The board continuously votes to decrease the percentage of money that is spent on its most valuable assets: its teachers. Educators are what make up the backbone of the district and should be compensated properly.”
  3. Janette Garza Lindner: “In addition to education, a few other policy areas I am passionate about include health care, especially removing the stigma from mental and emotional health services; agriculture and food policy, including improvements to ensure the nutritional value of our food supply is improved and regenerative practices are more widely used; and our country’s energy policy, especially innovation in generation, transmission and storage to meet our country’s needs for the next 100 years”

To read candidates’ full survey responses, click here

The Houston Independent School District Board of Education consists of nine trustees elected to four-year terms. All board members are elected by district. 

Houston Independent School District is located in Harris County, Texas, and is the largest school district in the state.

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Gov. Greg Abbott (R) appoints John Scott (R) as secretary of state

On Oct. 21, 2021, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott appointed John Scott as secretary of state

Scott replaces Ruth Ruggero Hughs, who resigned in May of 2021 after the Senate Nominating Commission refused to take up her nomination. 

Texas is one of nine states where secretaries of state are appointed by the governor. Scott’s appointment will have to be approved by the state Senate. The legislature adjourned on May 31 and will not convene again until Jan. 10, 2023. 

Gov. Abbott has appointed five secretaries of state during his tenure as governor.