State Sen. Robert Nichols encouraged voters to head to the polls Nov. 5 in support of 10 amendments to the Texas Constitution that range from increasing spending on cancer research to allowing retired police dogs to live with their handlers.
“It’s one of the smaller election turn outs,” Nichols told members and guest of Nacogdoches County Republican Women this week. “A few people will be making a decision on these constitutional amendments. I would encourage you to go out and vote, talk to your friends and make sure everyone understands what they’re voting for.”
In 2017, voter turn out was 5.8% for the constitutional election, according to the Secretary of State’s office.
Amendments to the Teas constitution require two-third support from both houses of the Texas Legislature before they can appear on the ballot. Nichols voted in favor of all 10 measures that will appear on the November ballot.
The constitutional amendment permitting a person to hold more than one office as a municipal judge at the same time.
This amendment would make rural communities better equipped to find municipal judges, Nichols said.
“Especially in these real small communities, they don’t have enough qualified people to run for office,” he said.
Because of the way the Texas Constitution is structured, sometimes even the most minor changes — like the ability to find a judge — must go to the people for a vote.
“One of the things you have to remember is when they rewrote the Texas Constitution back in the 1870s they did not trust the government,” Nichols said. “So they made a very weak government.”
The constitutional amendment providing for the issuance of additional general obligation bonds by the Texas Water Development Board in an amount not to exceed $200 million to provide financial assistance for the development of certain projects in economically distressed areas.
Nichols said the amendment would be a good investment and that the state has formulas to determine which communities qualify as economically distressed areas.
“These bonds are paid back by these entities overwhelmingly plus interest over a period of time, so the state gets the money back,” he said.
The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to provide for a temporary exemption from ad valorem taxation of a portion of the appraised value of certain property damaged by a disaster.
“You could have a tornado come in like in Alto and take down half the town,” he said. “Yet their appraisals were still showing a house worth $200,000 but it’s basically a slab,” Nichols said. “Constitutionally, these people need some help.”
The constitutional amendment prohibiting the imposition of an individual income tax, including a tax on an individual’s share of partnership and unincorporated association income.
“It prohibits a state income tax. A lot of those pieces are already on the books,” he said. “This makes it very clear. No state income tax.”
Opponents of the legislation say that individuals could be used to refer to businesses. The Senate considered substituting the language with the term “natural person,” but the proposal ultimately failed.
The constitutional amendment dedicating the revenue received from the existing state sales and use taxes that are imposed on sporting goods to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the Texas Historical Commission to protect Texas’ natural areas, water quality, and history by acquiring, managing, and improving state and local parks and historic sites while not increasing the rate of the state sales and use taxes.
Under this proposed amendment, the two state agencies would be guaranteed tax revenue from sales of sporting goods. The tax revenue is protected by statute but has no current constitutional backing, Nichols said.
“In tight years we go and we arm wrestle over all this money,” Nichols said.
The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to increase by $3 billion the maximum bond amount authorized for the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas.
Eight years ago, Nichols opposed efforts to fund the Caner Prevention and Research Institution of Texas, saying that he didn’t feel the state should be in the research business. He’s since changed his mind.
“We have some of the best cancer research people. Because of that more people from Texas will be saved than before. I’ve watched it and seen it work,” Nichols said.
The constitutional amendment allowing increased distributions to the available school fund.
This amendment would double the annual General Land Office distribution to schools to up to $600 million and let the State Board of Education sell bonds for that purpose. Both are currently prevented from doing so by the constitution.
The constitutional amendment providing for the creation of the flood infrastructure fund to assist in the financing of drainage, flood mitigation, and flood control projects.
If passed by voters, the amount of money spent on flood infrastructure would be determined by the Legislature every two years.
The existing flood infrastructure in much of South and East Texas was pushed beyond the breaking point in 2017 during Hurricane Harvey.
“When Harvey hit out of the 19 counties I represent, 11 counties were declared disaster area. Seven of those 11 literally were underwater,” Nichols said. “The real problem had to do with drainage.”
The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to exempt from ad valorem taxation precious metal held in a precious metal depository located in this state.
Some tax assessors around the state have wanted to tax precious metals such as gold and silver Texas owned the first state-backed precious metal depository in 2018. This proposal would prevent metals form being taxed as property.
“If you’ve got precious metal, it’s like you put it in a lock box in your bank,” Nichols said.
The constitutional amendment to allow the transfer of a law enforcement animal to a qualified caretaker in certain circumstances.
In another seemingly small change, the state wants to amend the constitution to allow police and rescue dogs to live with their animal handlers after retiring from service.
“At a certain point they hit retirement age, but they are public property,” Nichols said.