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Change Texas Referendum Law

Need To Change Texas Laws Concerning I&R (Initiatives and Referendums)

By Inayatullah Ibrahim Lalani

In the US, the venue for changing laws to meet the new necessities is usually through the elected representatives (U.S. congress or the state legislatures, as the case may be). In some States, the voters are allowed to place an issue for enactment directly to the voters for their approval (or not) and if approved it becomes the law of the state. There are many limitations, exceptions and overrides to this form of citizen democracy.

Texas, in this regard, is one of the most restrictive states in the nation; it allows only municipalities to grant – or not grant – the right of citizen generated I&Rs; these measures have to be limited to very narrowly defined issues and require an unreasonably large numbers of signatures on the petition to put anything on the ballot. Ironically, most opposition to more permissive I&R laws comes from the Democrats. The Republicans are more inclined to favor such. The reason given by the former is that if allowed to, narrow right wing special interest groups will take advantage of the usual very low turnouts in municipal elections to push through unsavory, anti-democratic measures by mobilizing conservative faithfuls.  This is called gaming the system.

We don’t believe that that is a good argument against citizen democracy.  We also believe safeguards can be built into any new law to prevent the above mentioned abuses. Safeguards such as limiting such ballot measures to elections with larger turnouts, e.g. gubernatorial or presidential election years. Or making such measures non-binding, i.e., to become in effect “a sense of electorate” manifesto.

A group of citizens called Tarrant County Initiative is spearheading a movement to change the law in favor of greater citizen democracy. Appropriately crafted legislation will allow us to place before the electorate of any jurisdiction (we are only aiming to do so for the 900,000 voters in Tarrant County, selecting the fourth largest Texas county, as a ‘test market’ so to speak); we understand that two groups in Austin are working on a similar plan for that city (where, we believe, no legislative change is needed).

We have started lobbying our lawmakers for enactment of comprehensive, more permissive and less burdensome (i.e. requiring fewer signatures) legislation but do not have enough man-power to reach everyone in Texas House or Senate. We are therefore appealing all Texans to initiate such lobbying process in their own districts.  If you need more information, please feel free to contact us via e-mail at my e-mail address shown at the bottom of this article.

You may ask what is the motivation behind this, rather daunting, campaign. We want to be forthright with our readers. We would like the electorate to address a vital question of our times: Does Israel share our values as is often claimed? The core American values as understood by most citizens are the dicta: 1) All men are Created Equal  2) The state should offer equal protection of law to all living within its jurisdiction and  3) There should be strict separation of Church and State. A corollary question to be piggybacked to the above would be “If you agree that Israel neither subscribes to nor practices these three core American values, is it then not practicing (South African style) ‘apartheid’?

It is important to point out that millions of Americans gave their lives in the Civil War, World Wars I & II and other conflicts defending these values and by flippantly asserting that a foreign country shares those noble values with us when in fact it does not, we are trashing those sacred memories of our fallen heroes.
We would like to place this referendum on the ballot for November 2010 election. In order for that to happen, the law must be passed by the 81st Texas legislature now in session and signed by Governor Rick Perry by June 5, 2009. Remember, there is going to be no legislative session after that date until 2011 since Texas Legislature meets only for four and a half months every two years!

If we are successful in clearing the legislative hurdle, we are then up against a difficult, expensive and formidable challenge before the electorate is able to express its opinion on this burning issue.

Lalani is a free-lance writer and an activist living in Fort Worth TX Area. He can be reached at assadiq@gmail.com


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