The vote was 3-1 on the motion by Pct. 2 Comm. Cole Hefner, which was seconded by Pct. 3 Comm. Frank Berka. Pct. 4 Comm. Mike Spencer joined them in voting for the bill.
Pct. 1 Comm. Paula Gentry cast the only negative vote.
The vote, at the end of a short court session, came after two constables voiced their opposition to the bill.
Simpson’s bill would place a constitutional amendment on this November’s state ballot that would allow counties from 18,000 to 50,000 to have from two to eight constable and peace justice precincts.
If the measure would win approval, a county’s Commissioners Court would decide the number of constable and JP precincts.
About 30 were in the audience at the meeting, where the two constables were the ones to speak in opposition to the resolution. However, the tenor of comments before and after the meeting indicated that most people opposed the measure.
Pct. 1 Constable Gene Dolle said that constables and justices of the peace would become beholden to commissioners, because commissioners could eliminate their precincts for budgetary reasons.
He said that in some counties, that power had been used to get rid of other office holders the commissioners didn’t like.
He said he had talked to at least 10 people in Austin, including the Texas Association of Counties, and the TAC “is genuinely concerned about this amendment.” He said none of the people he talked with favored the amendment.
Pct. 2 Comm. Jason Weeks said that in Upshur County, fewer than 5,000 live in Gilmer, the county seat, while about 35,000 live outside of Gilmer.
Having four constables helps supplement the Sheriff’s deputies in serving the public, he said.
In some other counties which supporters of the measure hold out as similar to Upshur—Titus, Hopkins and Cooke—over half the population lives in the county seat, with a police force to protect them.
Therefore, Weeks said, in Upshur County there are “a lot more citizens served by county law enforcement.”
He said it would put a “double load” on the constables and JPs who remained.
Dolle’s and Weeks’ precincts cover the eastern side of Upshur County, and, odds are, if the number of precincts was reduced, one of them would lose their precinct base.
Both said that reducing precincts would “mean longer lines” for service at the JP offices and more territory for constables to cover, and would stretch the already-stretched Sheriff’s Office, because two fewer lawmen would be on the streets.
Hefner worked with Simpson to develop the bill and brought on the agenda to the court.
He said it would return to the same situation as before 1999.
“We can’t change precincts yearly,” Hefner said. “This is simply to restore the original freedom to those counties.” He said that if the bill passes the state legislature, then the people of Texas would have a say in November.
Before it can be placed on the ballot, it must get two-thirds approval of each house of the legislature.
Mrs. Gentry said that many opponents of the bill had called her and “were not for giving commissioners that much control.”
Simpson’s bill was referred March 5 to the House State Affairs Committee, on which he serves.
No further action had occurred by press time.