By Bethany Blankley
Texas voters will decide on 10 constitutional amendments when they go to the polls Nov. 5. That's 4.6 percent of the 216 proposed constitutional amendments filed by state legislators this year.
Three of the measures on the ballot govern taxes; three authorize budget funding directives; two authorize bond sales; one pertains to municipal judges, and one to animal protection.
Compared to the U.S. Constitution, which has been amended only 27 times since it was ratified in 1788, the Texas Constitution has been amended 498 times since it was adopted in 1876. Texas has been governed by seven constitutions since 1824.
Texas’ 1876 constitution is the third-most amended state constitution in the U.S., behind California and Alabama.
California’s state constitution has been amended 514 times since it was adopted in 1879; Alabama’s has been amended 909 times since its adopted in 1901.
Nearly 150 state constitutions have been amended about 12,000 times in all 50 states, according to an analysis of state constitutions analyzed through 2000 by The Maryland State Constitutions Project.
“Some states have had multiple constitutions and since each state drafts its own, there is great diversity between them, though all have some basic concepts in common,” according to an analysis of all 50 state constitutions by the nonprofit organization Ballotpedia.org.
In Texas, statewide ballot measures can only be filed through the state Legislature, where they require a two-thirds majority in each chamber to be placed on the ballot. Unlike many other states, citizens in Texas cannot originate statewide ballot initiatives or referendums.
The Legislature, which meets every two years in odd-numbered years, filed an average of 187 constitutional amendments each regular legislative session between 2009 and 2017, according to the Ballotpedia analysis.
Of the 216 constitutional amendments filed in 2019, 48 percent were by Democrats; 52 percent were by Republicans. Members of the House filed more than double the number of amendments than those filed in the senate.
Democrat Rep. Richard Raymond filed the most constitutional amendments of 10. Republican senators Paul Bettencourt, Pat Fallon, and Steve Toth filed the most of five each.
Of the 159 constitutional amendments filed in Texas between 1995 and 2018, voters approved 91 percent.
Average voter turnout is significantly less during odd-numbered year elections, which feature constitutional amendments, meaning fewer citizens vote on them than if they were proposed in even-numbered year elections.
The three tax amendments on the Nov. 5 ballot would prohibit a state individual income tax, authorize a temporary property tax exemption for disaster areas, and authorize a property tax exemption for precious metals held in depositories.
Two bond authorization ballot measures propose allowing the Texas Water Development Board to issue up to $200 million in bonds, and authorize the Legislature to increase bonds for the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute.
Voters will also decide on budget funding initiatives, which include dedicating revenue from the state sales tax on sporting goods towards parks, wildlife, and historical agencies, increasing distributions to the state school fund, and creating a flood infrastructure fund.