TEXAS LAWMAKERS PROPOSE NEW CONSTITUTION
AUSTIN - Senate Finance Committee Chair Bill Ratliff of Mount Pleasant and House Appropriations Committee Chair Rob Junell of San Angelo held a press conference today in the Senate Chamber to propose a new state constitution for Texas. The current document has been in effect since 1876, and been amended 377 times. The proposed Constitution makes no changes to Article 1, the Texas Bill of Rights, and follows the general organizational outline of the current constitution with many provisions relocated to a more logical arrangement.
Highlights of the proposed changes in the legislative branch include term limits on legislative members, extending the terms for state senators from four to six years and for state representatives from two to four years, salary increases for the lieutenant governor and speaker, and the prohibition of legislators representing clients before state agencies.
Changes in the executive branch include creating an executive department; creating a cabinet which would include departments of state, interior, public safety and criminal justice, health and human services, education, agriculture, economic development, energy, and transportation; public election of governor, lieutenant governor, comptroller and attorney general; eliminates public election of commissioners of agriculture, land, and railroad; and authority for the governor to intervene in lawsuits in which the state is a party.
In the judicial branch, the proposed constitution merges the Supreme Court and the Court of Criminal Appeals into a single court with 15 members, with criminal and civil divisions of seven justices each, with a chief justice. Justices of supreme court and judges of appeals courts and district courts would be appointed by the governor with non-partisan retention elections.
Other areas affected include voter qualifications and elections, education, finance, and local government. The general provisions article changes include shortening the oath of office, creation of a salary commission, defining marriage for purposes of community property to include only heterosexual marriage, and simplifying the provisions on homestead equity loans.
A PROPOSED NEW CONSTITUTION
BACKGROUND AND HIGHLIGHTS
The proposed new Texas Constitution introduced by Senator Bill Ratliff and Representative Rob Junell renews a discussion began and largely abandoned in the 1970s. The 62nd Legislature in 1971 proposed a constitutional convention for the revision of the Texas Constitution, and the voters approved that proposal in November, 1972. The 63rd Legislature in 1973 created the Constitutional Revision Commission, chaired by former House Speaker and Chief Justice Robert W. Calvert and composed of 37 public officials, lawyers, scholars, and citizens. The commission reported its recommendations to the legislature on November 30, 1973.
The 63rd Legislature convened as a constitutional convention on January 8, 1974. The convention dissolved on July 30, 1974, having failed to garner the necessary two-thirds vote required for approval of a new constitution.
In 1975, the legislature submitted to the voters, in a series of eight proposed constitutional amendments, a proposed constitution that consisted of the text, largely unchanged, of the last proposal before the convention. The voters rejected each proposition. Since then, former Senator John Montford and a few others have kept the issue alive.
The 1974 convention is the only formal constitutional convention since adoption of the current constitution in 1876, although several legislatures have called for studies and commissions. The closest other attempt occurred in 1917, when both houses passed resolutions calling for the convening of a constitutional convention. That convention never met because Governor James Ferguson refused to issue the necessary proclamations to call the election of delegates.
The current Texas Constitution has been amended 377 times, from a total of 547 proposed amendments submitted to the voters for approval. As the result of amendments, the constitution has grown from 289 sections to 376 sections. The current document consists of approximately 90,000 words. The proposed revision consists of 150 sections and approximately 19,000 words, excluding temporary transitional provisions.
Although a fraction of the size of the current constitution, the proposed constitution remains longer and more detailed than one might expect. Readers should keep in mind that by its nature, the Texas Constitution is a limiting document; the citizens of Texas, through their government, have all power not granted to the federal government in the U. S. Constitution. In contrast, the U.S. Constitution is a granting document; the federal government may exercise only those powers expressly granted by that document. Of necessity, the process of stating the limitations on state government produces a longer and more detailed document than what citizens see in the U.S. Constitution.
The proposed constitution is derivative of the 1970s proposal and incorporates many of the elements of that proposal. The proposal also derives in part from the work product of the Angelo State University Department of Government. Although all or part of the specific proposal has been reviewed by a variety of interested persons at the request of the authors, the authors are ultimately responsible for the policy decisions represented in the proposal.
If adopted by two-thirds of the membership of both houses of the legislature, the proposal would be placed before the voters for approval, in a single ballot proposition, at the general election on November 2, 1999. If adopted by the voters, the constitution would take effect September 1, 2001, an effective date that allows the 77th Legislature meeting in regular session to consider and enact any necessary enabling legislation.
The proposed constitution follows the general organizational outline of the current constitution, but many provisions have been relocated to a more logical arrangement. For example, provisions on appropriations and public debt have been moved from the legislative article to the finance article. In addition, the proposed constitution uses a numbering scheme, like modern Texas codes, that facilitates expansion.
The following highlights, presented article by article, present the most significant changes from the current constitution, without purporting to identify each difference in detail.
Article 1. Bill of Rights
No change other than numbering, capitalization, and minor grammatical changes
Article 2. Powers of Government
Expressly reserves to the state all governmental power not denied by state or federal constitution
Article 3. Legislative Branch
Six-year staggered terms for senators; four-year staggered terms for house members
Term limits--members limited to nine regular sessions in house and nine regular sessions in senate, not including service before effective date of new constitution
Compensation to be set by appointed salary commission; lieutenant governor to get same salary as governor, speaker to get 90 percent of salary of governor; speaker prohibited from other full-time, salaried employment
Veto sessions--legislature may convene in special 15-day veto session to consider override of vetoes from previous regular or special session
Pre-session organizational assembly--legislature may meet to elect officers, adopt rules, and otherwise organize before convening in regular session
Legislative membership permitted on multi-member intergovernmental bodies that include executive officers
Legislators prohibited from representing clients before state agencies
Restrictions on eligibility of other officers for election to legislature eliminated
Article 4. Executive Branch
Creates governors executive department, consisting of cabinet and other executive agencies not expressly made independent of governor; lieutenant governor, comptroller, and attorney general remain independent elective offices
Cabinet members appointed by governor with advice and consent of senate and serve at pleasure of governor; cabinet consists of departments of state, interior, public safety and criminal justice, health and human services, education, agriculture, economic development, energy, and transportation
Governor authorized to intervene in litigation in which state is a party
Governor authorized to reorganize executive branch by reassigning functions or consolidating or abolishing agencies, officers, and governing bodies, subject to legislative disapproval of plan.
Power to grants pardons, reprieves, and commutations of sentence granted to governor
Compensation of constitutional executive officers set by salary commission
Existing state agencies remain in effect until altered by statute or by governors reorganization plan; commissioners of agriculture and general land office continue as elected offices until current office-holders do not run for reelection.
Article 5. Judicial BranchSupreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals merged into single supreme court of 15 justices, with civil and criminal divisions of seven justices each and single chief justice
Current justices of both courts continue serving on new unified supreme court, subject to retention election at end of each term; governor appoints initial chief justice
Justices of supreme court and judges of appeals courts and district courts appointed by governor, subject to nonpartisan retention election without opponent at end of each term; legislature authorized to establish nominating committees and to restrict governors appointments to committee nominees
Article 6. Voter Qualifications and Elections
Unnecessarily detailed voter residence and registration provisions removed, left to governance by statute
Secret ballot required in all elections
Even-numbered year general election required
Article 7. Education
Defines school equity standard to current court standard (substantially equal access to similar revenues per pupil at similar tax rates), but allows five percent of the students to be enrolled in districts in which financial resources are not equalized
Clarifies authority of legislature to provide for establishing, financing, consolidating, and abolishing school districts and community college districts
Permanent university fund, Available university fund, and related bonding authority restricted, for the purpose of developing limited number of world-class research universities, to the benefit of The University of Texas at Austin, Texas A&M University at College Station, and Prairie View A&M University
For all other universities, the current higher education assistance fund becomes the higher education capital fund, with annual contribution increased to $250 million
Article 8. Finance
Prohibits state ad valorem taxes except for support of free public schools
Authorizes legislature to grant ad valorem tax exemptions or other tax relief; maintains current constitutionally mandated ad valorem tax exemptions
Retains current prohibition against state personal income tax unless approved by voters; eliminates current dedication of income tax revenues to education and school tax reduction
Approximately 25 detailed provisions on specific bond issues (currently in Article III) made unnecessary by single provision on voter approval of state debts; existing bonding authority and obligations on bonds are preserved unimpaired
Provides that all state money from any source, other than trust funds established by law, may be spent only as appropriated
Article 9. Local Government
General authority of legislature to provide for special purpose districts, allowing omission of numerous special provisions related to named districts
Required county officers subject to change approved by the voters of the county (as opposed to constitutional amendments on a county-by-county basis)
Population requirements for municipal home rule subject to legislation instead of constitutional standard of 5,000 inhabitants
All local government general obligation debt subject to voter approval
Article 10. General Provisions
Official oath of office collapsed to single, simple statement
Salary commission, appointed by the governor, is established to recommend compensation for elected and appointed executive and judicial officers and to set compensation for legislators
Marriage defined for purposes of community property to include only heterosexual marriage
Provisions on homestead equity loans simplified, left to statutory regulation
Limitations on length of terms of office eliminated