The bill, HJR 103, would amend Article V, Section 18, of the Texas Constitution.
The section provides that counties of 18,000 to 50,000, according to the latest Federal Census, be divided into not less than four commissioner, peace justice, and constable precincts. (Upshur County’s population is about 40,000.)
The Bill was filed Thursday, Feb. 28. First reading was Tuesday, and on that day it was sent to committee.
A summary of the text of the bill states “Proposing a constitutional amendment to abolish the requirement that certain counties continue to be divided into not fewer than four precincts used to elect justices of the peace and constables.”
Of the two counties in Simpson’s district—Gregg and Upshur—the bill would affect Upshur. It would also affect 64 other counties, including many in East Texas.
Sherry Jewkes-Larsen, administrative assistant in Upshur County Pct. 4 Justice of the Peace W.V. Ray’s office, is extremely critical of the proposed amendment.
Simpson, who called The Mirror from the floor of the Legislature, said that he “doesn’t have an opinion one way or the other” about whether counties should reduce the numbers of JPs and constables, but feels that the decision should be done locally.
Currently, most counties can be divided into as many as eight precincts for commissioners, peace justices and constables, but not less than four. Those counties will less than 18,000 population may have one to four precincts.
“The (Texas) Constitution provides for considering the matter ‘from time to time,’” Rep. Simpson said. “This bill would simply remove the current restriction that would keep them from reducing the number.”
He said large counties, which might have a population of up to 800,000, might need more commissioners, smaller ones, fewer, but that the decision should be made at the local level.
He said it would remove the restriction put in place that counties would be bound to the numbers of precincts for those offices in existence on Nov. 2, 1999, as currently in force.
Her Letter to the Editor critical of Upshur County commissioners was published in the March 2 edition of The Gilmer Mirror.
That letter generated several responses, by Jimmye Martin in the March 6 edition and Porter Click on Page 4 in this one, supporting commissioners.
In an e-mail Tuesday, March 5, she stated many criticisms of Simpson’s proposal and alleged that it is done “as a personal favor to a friend or friends.”
“Why does it not include all of Section 18, which also covers the commissioners?” she asked. The bill, as proposed, would leave the number of commissioners at four, as provided for in Section 18, which also provided for four peace justices and constables.
“If we do not but two JPs and Constables, why would we need more than two commissioners?”
Simpson said that “I am simply for freedom, and feel decisions as much as possible should be made on the local level.”
Mrs. Larsen said that reducing the number of constables would hamper law enforcement, by reducing the number of peace officers available to patrol the roads of the county.
Some have claimed that Mrs. Larsen is planning to seek county office, and her letter is part of that campaign. (Filing season for the 2014 elections does not begin until this December.)
She told The Mirror Tuesday that she is undecided about pursuing office or what office she might pursue if she does, “but my father (the late former County Sheriff Dale Jewkes) didn’t raise me” to overlook these problems in government.”