OPINION: Mixed bag: COVID reactions not needed, homeowner relief is welcome

Early voting is ending for the Nov. 2 state referendum on eight proposed amendments to the Texas Constitution, as well as local issues in some areas. Two of the proposals would extend tax relief to a small number of Texans who probably need it without significantly affecting state revenue. Two others, however, are knee-jerk responses to the COVID-19 pandemic that can, and should, be addressed through simple legislation.

Our state’s governing document is one of the longest and most cumbersome the country, primarily due to lawmakers’ improper use of the document to force measures on state residents that can’t be repealed without another statewide vote. Low turnout normally means that such repeals aren’t likely, since about the only people motivated to vote are those who support the various proposals. Of 690 amendments proposed over the years, 507 have passed, many so specific that they now are obsolete.

Emotional reactions shouldn’t clutter our governing document, and this guides our recommendations on these proposals.

Proposition 3: No. This measure supports fundamentalist churches that sought to defy mandates to close during the worst part of the pandemic. Supporters say it’s in line with the U.S. Constitution’s protection of religious freedom, but it ignores the Constitution’s prohibition of special treatment. Measures taken to protect public health and safety must apply to everyone, regardless of religious affiliation.

Prop. 6: No. This is a reaction to quarantine orders that left many nursing home residents without contact from friends, family members and other visitors. This amendment would guarantee such contact, but requires legislators to set specific conditions, such as who can be put on the visitation list and how to screen them to ensure that those visitors themselves aren’t contagious. This is all that’s needed, and the same legislation that sets those conditions can also authorize the visits.

The Constitution governs all state and local taxation, however, and issues related to new taxes or exemptions must be addressed in the document. This applies in the final two proposals.

Prop. 7. Yes. This amendment would allow the surviving spouse of a disabled person to retain any property tax exemptions that exist when that person dies. Family members who care for disabled residents suffer their own hardships, including the expenses related to their care. Any tax relief would be welcome. Only surviving spouses ages 55 and older qualify for the extension, so the loss to property tax accounts should be minimal.

Prop 8. Yes. Surviving spouses of military personnel who are “killed in action” can request a full homestead exemption from property taxes. This measure would extend the exemption to families of those who were killed or fatally injured during active duty but not in combat. Most members of the military are their families’ primary breadwinners, and their loss is a significant blow to their families, even if their injuries were suffered during training, non-combat accidents or other occurrences.

All eligible voters are encouraged to register their opinions on these constitutional amendments and other items on Tuesday’s ballot.