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Unfunded Mandates Constitutional Amendments: Try Again in 2013

By Elna Christopher
Director of Media Relations

During the most recent legislative session, House and Senate constitutional amendments that would prohibit unfunded mandates did not pass the Legislature.

In 2013, it will be time to try again.

There was some good news about counties’ persistent quest for an unfunded mandate constitutional amendment, despite the overall bad news that none of the three resolutions made it to the House or Senate floors. There were 95 bi-partisan authors and co-authors on one – HJR 56 by Rep. Burt Solomons (R-Carrollton) – only five short of the two-thirds needed for House passage of a constitutional amendment.

Almost all counties passed resolutions in support HJR 56, and their resolutions played a major role in getting all those co-authors to sign on.

The other two constitutional amendments filed were:

  • HJR 89 by Rep. Garnet Coleman (D-Houston), chair of House County Affairs. Coleman’s amendment applied only to counties, the local government arm that most often bears the main brunt of unfunded mandates from the state – to which any county official in Texas can attest.

  • SJR 17 by Sen. John Carona (R-Dallas), which was the Senate version of Solomons’ HJR 56. Both HJR 56 and SJR 17 would have applied to counties, cities, community college districts and certain special districts, such as hospital districts.

Both HJR 56 and HJR 89 made it to the House Calendars Committee but not to the floor. SJR 17 did not get a committee hearing on the Senate side.

If any of the three resolutions had passed the Legislature, voters would have weighed in on the November 2011 ballot. We firmly believe that voters would have approved – since county officials have been, and must continue, to inform local taxpayers that mandates cost them money the state should be paying.

Why we will try again in 2013
The financial burdens placed upon counties by the Legislature in recent decades have become onerous for local property taxpayers – either causing local property tax hikes or reductions in services.

Examples include the 2001 Fair Defense Act, which has doubled the costs for appointed attorneys, with state reimbursement accounting for only about 10 percent of that cost – meaning the local property taxpayers must make up the difference. Another recent unfunded mandate is SB 6 from 2005 that mandated counties must provide attorneys for indigent parents in CPS cases. Other unfunded mandates include indigent health care and requirements for some counties to have mandatory civil service systems.

The State of Texas fights for its rights against encroaching federal mandates. Counties and Texas taxpayers should be protected from additional costly mandates from the state.