FEATURED, FROM LEFT: San Juan First Lady Heather Garza, San Juan Mayor Mario Garza, and Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. D-Brownsville, on Thursday, July 1, 2021, during the swearing-in ceremony of the mayor, held at the Amigos de Valle San Juan Center. Lucio and other Rio Grande Valley state lawmakers in Spring 2021 voted to bring eight state constitutional amendments before Texas voters. Election Day is Tuesday, November 2, 2021. Early voting runs through Friday, October 29, 2021.
Photograph Courtesy CITY OF SAN JUAN INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY DEPARTMENT
Former McAllen Mayor Jim Darling and DHR Health Vice President Roberto Haddad at 7 p.m. on Monday, October 18, 2021 – through Futuro RGV Facebook – to provide legislative analyses of the eight proposed Texas constitutional amendments
Texas voters have approved 507 amendments to the state Constitution since its adoption in 1876, according to the Legislative Reference Library, according to the House Research Organization, which is the nonpartisan research arm of the Texas House of Representatives.
Eight more proposed amendments are being submitted for voter approval at the general election on Tuesday, November 2, 2021. Early voting statewide will be held from Monday, October 18, 2021 through Friday, October 29, 2021.
In Texas, a constitutional amendment is a proposed change to the state constitution. A constitutional amendment is proposed by the Texas Legislature in the form of a joint resolution that must be adopted by both the House of Representatives and the Texas Senate by a two-thirds vote and be approved by a majority of the voters to become effective.
A joint resolution is a type of legislative measure that is used to propose amendments to the Texas Constitution, ratify amendments to the U.S. Constitution, or request a constitutional convention to propose amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
As part of its ongoing mission by Futuro RGV, which is a citizenry group dedicated to the quality of life in the Rio Grande Valley, former McAllen Mayor Jim Darling and DHR Health Vice President Roberto Haddad on Monday, October 18, 2021, will provide legislative analyses of those eight proposed state constitutional amendments.
The live broadcast, which begins at 7 p.m., will be carried on the Futuro RGV Facebook, and the videotaped version will remain on that site for interested individuals who missed viewing the event.
Futuro RGV’s Facebook is available at:
Darling served as mayor of McAllen from 2013 to 2021. He won re-election in May 2017, but did not seek reelection in 2021. Darling spent 28 years as a city attorney with the city of McAllen and other governmental entities and served as City Commissioner for District 6 prior to being elected mayor.
Haddad has served as Vice President and Counsel for Government Affairs and Policy since August 2016. He is regarded as an experienced attorney with a wide-ranging background in governmental affairs and relations, federal and state legislative process, advocacy, legal research, analysis and writing, public policy analysis and development, litigation, contracts, and health care law and policy.
The issues being proposed in the eight constitutional amendments awaiting action by Texas voters are:
• Proposition 1: Authorizing the Legislature to permit charitable raffles at rodeo events.
• Proposition 2: Authorizing counties to issue debt backed by property tax increment.
• Proposition 3: Constitutionally prohibiting state limits on religious services.
• Proposition 4: Changing eligibility requirements for appellate and district judges.
• Proposition 5: Permitting SCJC to accept complaints on all candidates for judicial office.
• Proposition 6: Creating right of long-term care residents to designate essential caregiver.
• Proposition 7: Property tax limitation for surviving spouse of person with disability.
• Proposition 8: Expanding homestead exemption eligibility for surviving spouses of service members.
Two of those constitutional amendments are the work of Valley lawmakers – Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, and Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo/Starr County.
Canales is the author of the legislation approved by the Texas Legislature that became Proposition 2, while Zaffirini is the sponsor of the legislation approved by the Texas Legislature that became Proposition 5.
The author is the legislator who files a bill and guides it through the legislative process (also called the primary author).
The sponsor is the legislator who guides a bill through the legislative process after the bill has passed the originating chamber.
A bill is a type of legislative measure that requires passage by the House of Representatives and the Texas Senate, and in many cases, requires action by the governor in order to become effective. A bill is the primary means used to create and change the laws of the state.
Jim Darling Biographical Sketch
Highlights of former McAllen mayor Darling’s personal and professional careers were publicly honored by the Texas Senate on Wednesday, May 5, 2021, through Senate Resolution 363, authored by Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville.
A resolution is a formal expression of recognition, opinion, or decision, other than a proposed law, that may be offered for approval to one or both chambers of the Texas Legislature by a member of the House of Representatives or Senate.
The text of Senate Resolution 363 paying tribute to Darling follows:
WHEREAS, The Senate of the State of Texas is pleased to recognize Mayor James E. “Jim” Darling of McAllen, who is retiring at the end of his term in May of 2021 after 43 years of exemplary public service to the McAllen community; and
WHEREAS, An esteemed veteran and civic leader, Jim Darling began a career of service to his fellow citizens when he joined the United States Air Force in 1967; he served two tours of duty in Vietnam, and in addition, he served for three years in the United States Navy Reserve; he earned a degree from Baylor University in 1975 and graduated from the Baylor Law School in 1977; and
WHEREAS, Mr. Darling specialized in local government law and served for 28 years as a city attorney for the City of McAllen and other governmental entities; he served as the McAllen city commissioner for District 6 from 2007 until 2013, when he assumed the office of mayor of McAllen; he set lasting standards for excellence and was reelected by voters in 2017, and throughout his tenure, he has served the people of McAllen with skill and dedication; and
WHEREAS, Mayor Darling has served on the boards of many civic, charitable, and professional organizations, and he has received numerous accolades and awards for his contributions to the community and his professional accomplishments; and
WHEREAS, Jim Darling is the devoted husband of Sandra Darling and the proud father of six children; he is a highly regarded steward of the McAllen community, and his leadership as mayor of McAllen will be greatly missed; now, therefore, be it
RESOLVED, That the Senate of the State of Texas, 87th Legislature, hereby commend James E. Darling on his outstanding career of public service and his distinguished tenure as mayor of the City of McAllen and extend to him sincere best wishes for the future; and, be it further
RESOLVED, That a copy of this Resolution be prepared for him as an expression of esteem from the Texas Senate.
Roberto Haddad Biographical Sketch
Haddad is part of the leadership team at DHR Health, which is anchored in southwest Edinburg on a 130-acre site, with a growing presence in neighboring McAllen, Rio Grande City, Mission, and Brownsville, DHR Health offers some of the most comprehensive medical care on the U.S. southern border, with more than 1,400 nurses and 600+ physicians providing care in 70+ specialties and sub-specialties.
DHR Health is the flagship teaching hospital for the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine and encompasses a general acute hospital with the only dedicated women’s hospital south of San Antonio, a rehabilitation hospital, a behavioral hospital, more than 70 clinics Valley-wide, advanced cancer services, the only transplant program in the Rio Grande Valley – and the only 24/7 Level 1 Trauma Center south of San Antonio.
Prior to coming on board with DHR Health, Haddad served as Legislative Counsel for Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, from August 2015 through August 2016.
In that capacity, he provide legislative analysis, leadership and counsel with respect to the House Financial Services Committee (banking & financial regulation, consumer credit, capital markets, housing, insurance, and monetary policy), as well as legislation regarding the federal budget, the Judiciary Committee, immigration, law enforcement, small business, tax, commerce and trade. In addition, he served as point-man for the Rural Housing Caucus and the Financial and Economic Literacy Caucus as well as liaison to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
Haddad’s earlier professional experiences include serving as Chief Legal and Company Affairs Officer, Arjuna Solutions, LLC, in Washington, D.C., Law Clerk for U.S. Federal Chief Judge Ricardo Hinojosa in McAllen, Clinical Student for the Harrison Institute in Washington, D.C., Tax Advisory Services for Ernst & Young, LLP, and the South Texas Civil Rights Project in San Juan, Texas.
He earned his law degree from Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C., and his Bachelor of Business Administration from St. Edward’s University in Austin.
“Focus Report – Constitutional amendments proposed for the November 2021 ballot”
A summary of the eight state constitutional amendments, which are part of a 14-page report, titled “Focus Report – Constitutional amendments proposed for the November 2021 ballot”, prepared by the House Research Organization.
Those highlights follow:
AUTHORIZING THE LEGISLATURE TO PERMIT CHARITABLE RAFFLES AT RODEO EVENTS
Proposition 1 would change Texas Constitution Art. 3, sec. 47(d-1) to allow the Legislature by general law to permit the charitable foundation of an organization sanctioned by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association or the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association to conduct charitable raffles at rodeo venues.
The ballot proposal reads: “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.”
Proposition 1 would grant authority to the Legislature to allow charitable raffles to be conducted at rodeo events, which is consistent with its current authority to allow such raffles at other professional sporting events.
In 2015, voters by an overwhelming margin approved Proposition 4, which authorized the Legislature to permit charitable raffles by professional sports team charitable foundations. Since the approval of Proposition 4, charitable raffles have raised large amounts of money for worthy causes related to education, cancer research, and youth programs. Proposition 1 would not legalize a new form of gambling nor open the door to expanding gambling in the state.
It simply would expand to rodeo events the current authorization for professional sports team charitable foundations to conduct raffles.
Proposition 1, by permitting the expansion of charitable raffles, has the potential to contribute to future expansion of gambling in Texas. Although the Texas Constitution provides for charitable raffles at certain sporting events, the trend of expanding the list of parties who may conduct such raffles should be approached with caution to avoid opening the door to legalizing more games of chance in Texas.
AUTHORIZING COUNTIES TO ISSUE DEBT BACKED BY PROPERTY TAX INCREMENT
Proposition 2 would change Texas Constitution Art. 8, sec. 1-g(b) to authorize counties to issue bonds or notes to finance the development of unproductive, underdeveloped, or blighted areas and to pledge increases in property tax revenues for repayment.
A county that issued bonds or notes for transportation improvements could not:
• Pledge for repayment more than 65 percent of the increases in property tax revenues each year; or
• Use proceeds from the bonds or notes to finance the construction, operation, maintenance, or acquisition of rights-of-way of a toll road.
The ballot proposal reads: “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.”
Proposition 2 would allow counties to use a vital financing tool to develop transportation projects and other infrastructure in unproductive, underdeveloped, or blighted areas. The Texas Constitution already allows cities to use this tool, called tax increment financing, and this proposition would extend that authority to counties. The amendment would be a logical extension of the constitutional authority to use tax increment financing. Current law already provides a means for both cities and counties to reinvest funds in blighted areas.
Proposition 2 could expand taxpayer-backed debt by allowing counties to use tax increment financing, contributing to a trend of local governments issuing more debt and potentially resulting in an increase in local taxes to cover increasing debt service payments. Texas’ local debt per capita already is too high, ranking third among the 10 most populous states, according to a 2020 Bond Review Board report.
Authorizing counties to further increase local debt could obligate future funds for debt service payments, invite higher taxes to cover the growing obligations, risk local credit rating downgrades, and have a chilling effect on economic growth and investments.
CONSTITUTIONALLY PROHIBITING STATE LIMITS ON RELIGIOUS SERVICES
Proposition 3 would add sec. 6-a to Art. 1 of the Texas Constitution to prohibit the state or a political subdivision of the state from enacting, adopting, or issuing a statute, order, proclamation, decision, or rule that prohibited or limited religious services, including services conducted in churches, congregations, and places of worship, in the state by a religious organization established to support and serve the propagation of a sincerely held religious belief.
The ballot proposal reads: “The constitutional amendment to prohibit this state or a political subdivision of this state from prohibiting or limiting religious services of religious organizations.”
Proposition 3, by prohibiting state or local officials from acting to prohibit or limit religious services, would help guarantee that Texans could freely exercise their religious beliefs. The proposition would address actions taken by some government officials during the COVID-19 pandemic that restricted Texans’ ability to practice their faith in congregation with others at churches, mosques, and synagogues. It would help protect the ability to exercise the religious freedom enshrined in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
By allowing places of worship to remain open to large gatherings during a pandemic or other disaster, Proposition 3 could increase the risks for all Texans. The amendment’s broad language could restrict the ability of public officials to issue emergency orders limiting in-person religious services during a disaster, even if the orders were treating religious services the same as other gatherings.
CHANGING ELIGIBILITY REQUIREMENTS FOR APPELLATE AND DISTRICT JUDGES
Proposition 4 would reword Texas Constitution Art. 5, sec. 2(b) and sec. 7 to change the eligibility requirements to serve on the Texas Supreme Court, the Court of Criminal Appeals, and courts of appeals and on state district courts.
The ballot proposal reads: “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.”
Proposition 4 would ensure a higher quality judiciary in Texas by adding to existing eligibility requirements for appellate and district court judges. There have long been bipartisan calls to revise qualifications for judges, an issue separate from the method of judicial selection. Strengthening judicial qualifications would benefit all Texans.
It is unnecessary to revise qualifications for the judiciary because current constitutional provisions work to ensure voters can make choices among qualified judicial candidates. Voters are in the best position to assess candidates and should be trusted to choose from among judicial candidates that meet current qualifications without increasing barriers to public office.
PERMITTING THE STATE COMMISSION ON JUDICIAL CONDUCT TO ACCEPT COMPLAINTS ON ALL CANDIDATES FOR JUDICIAL OFFICE
Proposition 5 would change Texas Constitution Art. 5, sec. 1-a to allow the State Commission on Judicial Conduct to accept complaints or reports, conduct investigations, and take any other authorized action with respect to a candidate for state judicial office in the same manner the commission may take those actions with respect to a person holding such office.
The ballot proposal reads: “The constitutional amendment providing additional powers to the State Commission on Judicial Conduct with respect to candidates for judicial office.”
By expanding the authority of the State Commission on Judicial Conduct (SCJC) to receive complaints and conduct investigations, Proposition 5 would create a more evenhanded process for candidates for judicial office who were not current officeholders and those who were incumbents. Currently, elected judicial officers are held to high standards specified in the Code of Judicial Conduct, whereas their non-judge opponents are not.
Proposition 5 could significantly increase the responsibilities of the State Commission on Judicial Conduct by expanding the list of individuals potentially subject to a complaint or investigation by the commission. If the scope of the commission’s work were to be expanded, it could need more resources to compensate for the additional responsibilities.
CREATING RIGHT OF LONG-TERM RESIDENTS TO DESIGNATE ESSENTIAL CAREGIVER
Proposition 6 would add sec. 35 to Art. 1 of the Texas Constitution to grant residents of certain long-term care facilities the right to designate an essential caregiver with whom the facility could not prohibit in-person visitation. The proposition would apply to a resident in a nursing facility, assisted living facility, intermediate care facility for individuals with an intellectual disability, residence providing home and community-based services, or state-supported living center.
The ballot proposal reads: “The constitutional amendment establishing a right for residents of certain facilities to designate an essential caregiver for in-person visitation.”
Proposition 6 would grant residents of long-term care facilities the right to designate an essential caregiver for in-person visitation, ensuring that residents had access to an essential caregiver at all times, with limited exceptions. Essential caregivers are vital in providing hands-on care and social and emotional support to residents, which supplements care provided by facility staff.
Proposition 6 should allow a long-term care facility resident or the resident’s guardian or representative to designate more than one person at a time as an essential caregiver for in-person visitation. Limiting the essential caregiver designation to only one person could prevent other family members and friends from seeing a loved one who was near or at the end of life.
PROPERTY TAX LIMITATIONS FOR SURVIVING SPOUSE OF PERSON WITH DISABILITY
Proposition 7 would change Texas Constitution Art. 8, sec. 1-b to provide that the surviving spouse of an individual who received a limitation on the school district property taxes on the individual’s residence homestead on the basis of disability continued to receive it while the property remained the spouse’s residence homestead if the spouse was at least 55 years old.
The ballot proposal reads: “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 is necessary to ensure that the surviving spouse of an individual with a disability who qualified for a homestead exemption could continue to receive the school district property tax limitation, or “freeze,” on the surviving spouse’s residence homestead. The spouses of deceased individuals over 65 already qualify for the property tax freeze, and the proposition would provide the same limitation to the surviving spouse of a person with a disability. This would deliver meaningful relief to surviving spouses on a fixed income and ensure they were not priced out of their homes.
Texans should be wary of continuing the trend of homestead exemptions and limitations on property taxes that show preferential treatment to specific taxpayers. By extending the tax freeze for the surviving spouse of a person with a disability who qualifies for a homestead exemption, Proposition 7 could reduce school district revenues and increase costs to the state through the operation of school funding formulas. Such tax freezes also could shift more of the tax burden to those who do not qualify for the exemption, including businesses, renters, and younger homeowners.
EXPANDING HOMESTEAD EXEMPTION ELIGIBILITY FOR SURVIVING SPOUSE OF SERVICE MEMBERS
Proposition 8 would change Texas Constitution Art. 8, sec. 1-b(m) to expand eligibility for the residence homestead tax exemption currently provided to the surviving spouse of a member of the U.S. armed services who was killed in action. With the amendment, the surviving spouse would be entitled to the exemption if the service member was killed or fatally injured in the line of duty.
The ballot proposal reads: “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 in the line of duty.”
Proposition 8 and its enabling legislation would correct an oversight in current law by providing the residence homestead tax exemption to all surviving spouses of members of the U.S. armed services killed in the line of duty. In 2013, Texans voted to provide a full property tax exemption on the homestead of spouses of members killed in action.
However, the term “killed in action” does not include acts of terrorism or non-hostile events or incidents, such as accidental vehicle crashes. As a result, surviving spouses of members who died in accidents or events that were not directly combat-related but that occurred in the line of duty are not eligible for the homestead exemption. By expanding the eligibility to include surviving spouses of members killed or fatally injured in the line of duty, rather than only those killed in action, the proposition would include more surviving spouses.
By expanding the exemption on the total value of the homestead of surviving spouses of service members, Proposition 8 would continue a problematic trend of exemptions for certain individuals. This can lead to local governments raising taxes on property that does not qualify for the exemption, such as businesses, to remain revenue neutral.
The proposition also would expand an exemption that could be claimed by wealthy individuals capable of paying the taxes, since there is no value limit, and would continue it for an indefinite period of time until the spouse remarried. Instead of expanding this exemption, the Legislature should focus on other ways to reduce the property tax burden for all Texans.
More details about the eight state constitutional amendments are found at:
For more on this and other Texas legislative news stories that affect the Rio Grande Valley metropolitan region, please log on to Titans of the Texas Legislature (TitansoftheTexasLegislature.com).