A committee chairman in the state legislature decided to kill State Rep. David Simpson’s bill that might have led to reducing the number of Constables and Justices of the Peace in Upshur County, Simpson told the Upshur Republican Party’s Executive Committee last Saturday.
“Before we ever had the hearing (on House Joint Resolution 103), he had made the decision,” said Simpson, speaking of the unnamed chairman of the County Affairs Committee in the Texas House of Representatives.
(After the meeting, Upshur County Pct. 2 Comm. Cole Hefner, who asked Simpson to introduce the legislation, told The Mirror he had learned that from the chairman himself, and had passed that information along to Simpson.)
Simpson (R-Longview) discussed his unsuccessful proposal, and some other state issues, in addressing about 45 people at Saturday’s public meeting at the Walking ‘S’ Steak House near Gilmer.
The resolution he introduced would have put a proposed amendment to the Texas Constitution on the ballot for this November’s amendment election. Under the proposal, a county of 50,000 or fewer population could have opted to hold an election on reducing their number of Constables and JPs from four apiece to as few as two each.
Simpson’s original bill would have allowed a County Commissioners Court to make the decision. But after he held a town hall here at which he ran into some complaints about that proposal, he offered substitute legislation to require that the voters in a county approve any such cutback.
With two of Upshur County’s four Justices of the Peace (Lyle Potter of Pct. 2 and Rhonda Welch of Pct. 3), and Pct. 1 Constable Gene Dolle sitting in the audience Saturday, Simpson said, “I’m sorry I stirred up some controversy. I thought I was just trying to help.”
Mrs. Welch and Dolle had expressed opposition to the possible reductions.
Simpson said he introduced the bill after a “couple of people came to me” and asked him to. While the legislation could have affected more than 60 counties, he said he guessed that only six would “seriously consider changing” the number of JPs and Constables.
Under current law, Simpson said, any county with four JP/Constable precincts on Nov. 2, 1999, must retain at least four such precincts.
However, some such counties have cut the number and are thus operating outside the state Constitution, which could create “serious problems” in a big case, Simpson said.
He said he had been attempting to give smaller counties the right to reduce their number of precincts if they desired. “The issue to me was about freedom and about opportunity to have a level playing field,” Simpson said.
“To me, it made sense because it put it to the people” for a vote, he added.
The Longview legislator, who said callers to his office were about equally divided over the proposed legislation, said he believed he had enough votes on the committee to pass it. But the committee chairman told someone before the hearing, “This (proposal) isn’t going to go anywhere,” Simpson said.
Hefner told The Mirror the chairman made that statement to him.
Before Simpson spoke, Judges Potter and Welch had described their work as Justices of the Peace, and the legislator said it was a “delight” to hear them (see separate story). Mrs. Welch had told him “we (JPs) really got motivated” by his bill.
Simpson also addressed the issue of redistricting of state and federal legislative districts, which is the subject of a special legislative session called by Gov. Rick Perry.
The representative said he expects the U.S. Supreme Court to declare unconstitutional a provision of the federal Voting Rights Act, since it applies to only nine states, including Texas, instead of all 50.
Simpson also said a fellow legislator had introduced a bill to replace property taxes with a sales tax, but that Perry will not put that on the agenda for the special session.
After he spoke, Upshur Republican Chairman Cynthia Ridgeway said that while the GOP’s national chairman “has called for softening our position on social issues,” the Republican National Committee had nonetheless unanimously voted to affirm the position that marriage is between one man and one woman.
Mrs. Ridgeway said that shows the party’s “grass roots is still the conservative basis.”
She also praised Republicans for supporting conservative Ted Cruz in his successful U.S. Senate bid, saying he had called both Republicans and Democrats on the carpet for “weaknesses,” including their stance on immigration.