Forum Will Explain New Laws Affecting Taxes, Veterans, Eminent Domain And More
Ellen Cohen, the state legislator who represents West University Place, plans to host an informational meeting tonight to teach residents about 11 state constitutional amendments that will be on the ballot in November.
Cohen will moderate a panel of experts from the Comptroller’s Office, the General Land Office, the University of Houston and others as they explain the proposed amendments. The event begins at 7 p.m. at Lanier Middle School, 2600 Woodhead.
The proposed amendments on the November ballot include:
- House Joint Resolution 132 – This amendment would allow cities and counties to purchase land near military installations so they could prevent encroaching development, or build roadways or other infrastructure. The amendment says the cities and counties could finance the land purchases with public bonds or loans, and they could increase property tax revenues to pay them back.
- HJR 36, Article 1 – This amendment would change the way that residential homes are taxed in the state. Homes would be taxed based on the value of their residential use alone, instead of considering the highest and best use of the property.
- HJR 36, Article 3 – This amendment gives the state more control over the way counties appraise property at tax time. Right now, counties are responsible for appraising property within their limits, and procedures vary widely across the state. The amendment gives the state the authority to create uniform appraisal methods.
- HJR 14, Article 2 – This amendment would create a special fund to give money to state research universities to help pay for their research work. The extra money is meant to help them become nationally recognized research universities. The money would come from the state’s current higher education fund, and more money would come from the new fund’s interest and investments. The legislature would create eligibility requirements for universities seeking funds, but the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University would not be eligible (they are already nationally recognized research universities).
- HJR 36, Article 2 – This amendment would allow rural counties to choose to join together their property tax appraisal districts. The consolidated district would be responsible for conducting property appraisals in both counties. Qualified residents from both counties would be able to serve as board members.
- HJR 116 – This amendment would remove a $500 million limit on the amount of bond money the Veterans’ Land Board is allowed to loan the state for providing veterans with loans to purchase land or homes. Money that the state borrows for these loans to veterans would no longer be counted towards the limit for other state debt. The amendment allows the Veterans’ Land Board to avoid seeking voter re-approval for its bonding authority every four years.
- HJR 127 – This amendment allows officers of the Texas State Guard and other state military forces to also hold dual civil offices in city, state or national government. A previous law said that officers of the National Guard are allowed to hold dual positions, but it failed to mention that Texas military officers can also serve in dual civil leadership positions.
- HJR 7 – This amendment would allow the state to contribute money, property and other resources to help veterans hospitals in Texas. The law is meant to allow the state to try to improve medical care for Texas veterans.
- HJR 102 – This amendment deals with the state’s protection of public beaches to ensure they remain accessible to the public. Right now, people who build beach-front homes run the risk of their property becoming a public beach if rising sea levels, erosion or big storms like Hurricane Ike cause the vegetation line to move up to their property. The state has faced lawsuits from property owners for declaring their land part of a public beach. The proposed amendment would strengthen the current Texas open beaches act by making its provisions more permanent in the constitution.
- HJR 85 – This amendment would change the term limit for people serving on the boards of emergency services districts, which oversee medical, ambulance and fire services. Instead of two years, their terms would last four years. The change is meant to allow board members enough time to gain experience and avoid the distraction of frequently running for reelection. Opponents of the amendment say it would weaken board members’ accountability to the public.
- HJR 14, Article 1 – This amendment would restrict governmental entities’ power of eminent domain, which is the government’s power to seize private property for public use. The amendment would prohibit the government from seizing private property for any reason based on furthering economic development or enhancing tax revenues. The government could still use its eminent domain powers for other public uses.