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Wednesday, January 20, 2021

News Guide: Election features 7 constitutional amendments

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Voters statewide can give themselves tax breaks, pump billions of dollars into roads and make hunting and fishing constitutional rights by supporting seven amendments to the Texas Constitution on Tuesday’s ballot.

And Houston will choose a new mayor and decide whether to extend nondiscrimination protections to its gay and transgender residents in a referendum being watched nationally. Here’s a guide to the election:

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TURNOUT TURNAROUND?

The secretary of state’s office is spending $4 million through next year’s presidential election on an educational and promotional blitz designed to boost Texas’ typically dismal voter turnout.

Less than 34 percent of registered voters cast ballots last year, despite a governor’s race. And it was 8.5 percent in 2013, which like this election featured mostly state constitutional amendments.

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TAX TRIMS

Voters will decide on Proposition 1, which would increase homeowners’ school property tax homestead exemption from $15,000 to $25,000, saving the average family roughly $125 annually while costing the state about $1.2 billion in tax revenue for school districts during the first two years. The Legislature has budgeted extra funding so schools won’t see shortfalls, at least in the short term.

Proposition 2 also is on the ballot. It offers property tax exemptions to the spouses of totally disabled veterans who died before January 2010. Similar exemptions already exist for spouses of totally disabled veterans who died in 2011 or later.

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ANYWHERE BUT AUSTIN

The land and agriculture commissioners, comptroller, attorney general and members of the Rail Road Commission would be allowed to live somewhere other than the state capital if voters approve Proposition 3.

Supporters argue that modern technology allows elected officials to do their jobs from anywhere, though none of those current officeholders say they’ll move if given the chance.

It wouldn’t apply to the governor and the 1856 Greek Revival-style Austin mansion he occupies, nor the lieutenant governor.

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RAFFLE RIGHTS

Professional teams would be able to hold charitable raffles at all home games, rather than just twice annually as currently allowed, under Proposition 4. The Dallas Cowboys back it.

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GONE FISHIN’

Proposition 6 “recognizes the right for people to hunt, fish and harvest wildlife.” Supporters say it will protect those activities from future lawsuits.

Though such legal challenges have been sparse, 18 states already have solidified such guarantees in their constitutions.

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ROAD REFERENDUMS

Proposition 5 would allow counties with fewer than 7,500 people to privatize road construction and maintenance — up from the current maximum of 5,000 residents. About 70 counties qualify.

Under Proposition 7, when sales tax revenue exceeds $28 billion per fiscal year, the next $2.5 billion would go to road construction and maintenance. This would start in September 2017.

Then, beginning in September 2019, if tax revenue from vehicle sales and rentals exceeds $5 billion per fiscal year, 35 percent of the amount exceeding $5 billion would go road funding.

Top conservatives say the amendment will bolster transportation infrastructure that’s been taxed by Texas’ booming population without raising taxes.

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EQUAL RIGHTS RERERNDUM

Voters in the country’s fourth largest city are deciding on a nondiscrimination ordinance protecting gay and transgender people. The Houston City Council passed one last year, but the Texas Supreme Court ordered that it be put to a public vote.

The fight for and against the ordinance has been bitter, pitting Houston’s mayor, Annise Parker, who is gay, against conservatives worried about men being allowed to use women’s public restrooms.

The results could send a signal nationally. Some gay rights groups see local equal rights protections as their next major fight, after the U.S. Supreme Court awarded them the right to marry.

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MAYORAL MATCHUP

Houston also is voting to replace the term-limited Parker as mayor — and has no fewer than 13 choices. The race is technically nonpartisan, but the city’s last five mayors have all been Democrats and so are the favorites this time: state Rep. Sylvester Turner and former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia. A field of longer-shot hopefuls includes former congressman and unsuccessful 2006 gubernatorial candidate Chris Bell, also a Democrat.

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