There is a bill filed by Senators Paul Bettencourt and Eddie Lucio, Jr. which most any informed citizen would agree with and needs passage. However, there is little doubt SB488 will be opposed, wholly or in-part, by many of the local government lobbying organizations such as the Texas Municipal League.
We’ve had a common problem across Texas of local governments, from the mighty City of Houston to small San Marcos, simply not following the law, abusing the law, or purposefully confusing voters on ballot issues.
The Bettencourt-Lucio bill will require clear ballot language that accurately defines the proposition being placed before voters; allow a court to rewrite ballot language if the court finds that the language is inaccurate; create a standard form for use by residents for referendum or recall petitions; remove overly broad and unfair restrictions on who may collect signatures; create an expedited method for court review of ballot language to prevent the delay of local initiatives, and very importantly; instill a “loser pay” measure to ensure that prevailing parties have access to legal fees.
“In some cases, Houston residents were required to spend more than $300,000 of their own money just to get city officials to follow the law, and city officials openly ignored their duties in regard to lawfully collected petitions that were submitted to the city,” said Senator Bettencourt.
And we’ve seen it across the state. Local government officials know they have an advantage on these issues because rarely does any person or small group have the funds to take them to court. And when they do courts are somewhat hamstrung in dealing with the issue in time to keep a called election on track.
Ballot language should be clear; the petition process uniform and not subject to disqualification for the tiniest of clerical errors, and; those abusing the system should have to pay the legal bills when found out. SB488 deserves passage.