All eight bills advanced by Texas legislators as amendments to the state’s constitution were passed by voters Tuesday, with only about nine percent of eligible Texas voters casting ballots in the election, according to The Texas Tribune.
Most of the proposals were not controversial and passed with overwhelming support, including approval for charitable raffles at rodeo events. One measure approved by voters limits the government’s ability to restrict or prohibit religious services, whether they are conducted in a church or other places. The proposal, known as Proposition 3, passed with 62 percent voting in favor.
“When the restrictions were put on the church, it crossed the line from what we could do, which was buy groceries, and what we couldn’t do, which was worship as we want to worship,” Republican State Senator Donna Campbell said in April, according to the Texas Tribune.
The Tribune also quoted fellow Republican Senator Scott Sanford, who reportedly said churches provide essential spiritual, mental and physical support in a time of crisis. “Closing churches not only eliminated these critical ministries and services, but it violated their religious freedom, guaranteed by our laws and Constitution,” Sanford said. Senator Sanford has also served as a pastor for a church in Allen, Texas since 1997.
Opponents fear the amendment may hamper authorities attempting to mount an effective response to an emergency such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
Baptist Joint Committee Executive Director Amanda Tyler was quoted saying in October that Proposition 3 sends “a damaging message that religious people are more concerned about special treatment than they are about the good of their communities.”
“Times of public crisis demand that all community leaders — religious, secular, and governmental — work together to find solutions. By giving religious gatherings a pre-emptive exemption from future emergency orders, we fear that these bills will unintentionally paint religious communities as part of the problem, not the solution, and thereby undercut our ability to partner with community leaders to defeat the crisis,” Tyler said on her group’s website.
David Marcus is a board member and financial supporter of El Paso Matters, which describes itself as “a member-supported nonpartisan media organization that uses journalism to expand civic capacity in our region.” Marcus commented on Proposition 3 weeks before Tuesday’s passage.
“If it were to pass, Proposition 3 could have deadly consequences if the COVID-19 pandemic worsens or if we face a more contagious virus,” Marcus said. “If the state can’t temporarily limit gatherings, a crowded religious service could be a potential super-spreader of the virus, leading to other infections in unsuspecting members of the community.”
Another proposed amendment, Proposition 6, allows residents of nursing homes and assisted living facilities to designate one essential caregiver who cannot be denied in-person visitation rights. It passed with 88 percent of the vote.
The Senate sponsor of the original legislation for Proposition 6, Republican Lois W. Kolkhorst, wrote about the bill after it passed with unanimous bipartisan support.
“Visiting a loved one in a nursing home should be a right, not a privilege. Friends and family provide emotional
support and protect residents from unseen neglect,” said Kolkhorst in a March 17 letter. “If another health emergency occurs, our state’s caregivers will always have a way to safely go inside a facility for scheduled visits and ensure that their loved one’s physical, social, and emotional needs are being met.”
Proposition 2 authorizes counties to issue bonds or notes to raise funds for transportation and infrastructure in underdeveloped areas, something Texas cities were already permitted. It passed with 63 percent of the vote.
Propositions 4 and 5 were arcane measures addressing requirements for state judges and oversight of judicial candidates. Both squeaked by with 59 percent of the vote.
Proposition 7 limits school district property taxes incurred by the surviving spouse of a person with disabilities older than 65 who has died. The surviving spouse must be at least 55 years old at their partner’s time of death and still live in the home. Eighty-seven percent of voters approved it.
Proposition 8 expands eligibility for residential homestead property tax exemptions to include spouses of military members killed or fatally injured in the line of duty. The exemption previously only covered spouses of military members killed in action. It passed with 88 percent of the vote.
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