Article XVI, Section 59 of the Texas Constitution

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As amended September 13, 2003:

(a) The conservation and development of all of the natural resources of this State, and development of parks and recreational facilities, including the control, storing, preservation and distribution of its storm and flood waters, the waters of its rivers and streams, for irrigation, power and all other useful purposes, the reclamation and irrigation of its arid, semiarid and other lands needing irrigation, the reclamation and drainage of its overflowed lands, and other lands needing drainage, the conservation and development of its forests, water and hydro-electric power, the navigation of its inland and coastal waters, and the preservation and conservation of all such natural resources of the State are each and all hereby declared public rights and duties; and the Legislature shall pass all such laws as may be appropriate thereto.

(b) There may be created within the State of Texas, or the State may be divided into, such number of conservation and reclamation districts as may be determined to be essential to the accomplishment of the purposes of this amendment to the constitution, which districts shall be governmental agencies and bodies politic and corporate with such powers of government and with the authority to exercise such rights, privileges and functions concerning the subject matter of this amendment as may be conferred by law.

(c) The Legislature shall authorize all such indebtedness as may be necessary to provide all improvements and the maintenance thereof requisite to the achievement of the purposes of this amendment. All such indebtedness may be evidenced by bonds of such conservation and reclamation districts, to be issued under such regulations as may be prescribed by law. The Legislature shall also authorize the levy and collection within such districts of all such taxes, equitably distributed, as may be necessary for the payment of the interest and the creation of a sinking fund for the payment of such bonds and for the maintenance of such districts and improvements. Such indebtedness shall be a lien upon the property assessed for the payment thereof. The Legislature shall not authorize the issuance of any bonds or provide for any indebtedness against any reclamation district unless such proposition shall first be submitted to the qualified voters of such district and the proposition adopted.

(c-1) In addition and only as provided by this subsection, the Legislature may authorize conservation and reclamation districts to develop and finance with taxes those types and categories of parks and recreational facilities that were not authorized by this section to be developed and financed with taxes before September 13, 2003. For development of such parks and recreational facilities, the Legislature may authorize indebtedness payable from taxes as may be necessary to provide for improvements and maintenance only for a conservation and reclamation district all or part of which is located in Bexar County, Bastrop County, Waller County, Travis County, Williamson County, Harris County, Galveston County, Brazoria County, Fort Bend County, or Montgomery County, or for the Tarrant Regional Water District, a water control and improvement district located in whole or in part in Tarrant County. All the indebtedness may be evidenced by bonds of the conservation and reclamation district, to be issued under regulations as may be prescribed by law. The Legislature may also authorize the levy and collection within such district of all taxes, equitably distributed, as may be necessary for the payment of the interest and the creation of a sinking fund for the payment of the bonds and for maintenance of and improvements to such parks and recreational facilities. The indebtedness shall be a lien on the property assessed for the payment of the bonds. The Legislature may not authorize the issuance of bonds or provide for indebtedness under this subsection against a conservation and reclamation district unless a proposition is first submitted to the qualified voters of the district and the proposition is adopted. This subsection expands the authority of the Legislature with respect to certain conservation and reclamation districts and is not a limitation on the authority of the Legislature with respect to conservation and reclamation districts and parks and recreational facilities pursuant to this section as that authority existed before September 13, 2003.

(d) No law creating a conservation and reclamation district shall be passed unless notice of the intention to introduce such a bill setting forth the general substance of the contemplated law shall have been published at least thirty (30) days and not more than ninety (90) days prior to the introduction thereof in a newspaper or newspapers having general circulation in the county or counties in which said district or any part thereof is or will be located and by delivering a copy of such notice and such bill to the Governor who shall submit such notice and bill to the Texas Water Commission, or its successor, which shall file its recommendation as to such bill with the Governor, Lieutenant Governor and Speaker of the House of Representatives within thirty (30) days from date notice was received by the Texas Water Commission. Such notice and copy of bill shall also be given of the introduction of any bill amending a law creating or governing a particular conservation and reclamation district if such bill (1) adds additional land to the district, (2) alters the taxing authority of the district, (3) alters the authority of the district with respect to the issuance of bonds, or (4) alters the qualifications or terms of office of the members of the governing body of the district.

(e) No law creating a conservation and reclamation district shall be passed unless, at the time notice of the intention to introduce a bill is published as provided in Subsection (d) of this section, a copy of the proposed bill is delivered to the commissioners court of each county in which said district or any part thereof is or will be located and to the governing body of each incorporated city or town in whose jurisdiction said district or any part thereof is or will be located. Each such commissioners court and governing body may file its written consent or opposition to the creation of the proposed district with the governor, lieutenant governor, and speaker of the house of representatives. Each special law creating a conservation and reclamation district shall comply with the provisions of the general laws then in effect relating to consent by political subdivisions to the creation of conservation and reclamation districts and to the inclusion of land within the district.

(f) A conservation and reclamation district created under this section to perform any or all of the purposes of this section may engage in fire-fighting activities and may issue bonds or other indebtedness for fire-fighting purposes as provided by law and this constitution.

Editor Comments

This section and Article III, Section 52(b)(1) and (2) were adopted to provide for the conservation and development of the state's natural resources.

Under those constitutional provisions, the Legislature is authorized to create special "conservation and reclamation" districts to carry out that purpose.

Notably, this section, added in 1917, does not limit the amount of debt incurred by or the level of tax levied by a conservation and reclamation district.

It has been amended five times. The most recent amendment concerned provision of recreational facilities by a conservation and reclamation district.

Steve Smith

Recent Decisions

  • Chambers-Liberty Counties Navigation Dist. v. State, 575 S.W.3d 339, 350 (Tex. 2019) ("The District’s authority derives from Article XVI, Section 59 of the Texas Constitution. Section 59(a) provides that, among . . . . Id. art. XVI, § 59(b). Thus, the 'rights, privileges and functions' of the District are limited to those 'conferred by law.' The source of such law is enactments of the Legislature. The District does not contend that any other source of authority exists. In this regard, the District is not like a home-rule city such as Galveston, which derives some power directly from the Texas Constitution and has 'all the powers of the state not inconsistent with the Constitution, the general laws, or the city’s charter.'")
  • Maple Run at Austin Mun. Utility Dist. v. Monaghan, 931 S.W.2d 941, 949 (Tex. 1996) ("While Section 59(c) allows the Legislature to authorize districts to incur bonded indebtedness and to levy . . . . Thus, while Section 59 grants the Legislature a broad mandate to protect our natural resources, it recognizes local control of financial obligations. Under these circumstances, Section 59 cannot reasonably be read as authorizing local legislation that arbitrarily singles out a community for financial regulation. For the foregoing reasons, we hold that section 43.082 is not authorized under Article XVI, Section 59 of the Texas Constitution, and therefore is a prohibited local law under Article III, Section 56.")

Historic Decisions

  • Harris County Flood Control Dist. v. Mihelich, 525 S.W.2d 506, 510 (Tex. 1975) ("These were not the circumstances of the present case. On the contrary, the Harris County Flood Control District was engaged in day-to-day maintenance and operations which involved paid employees . . . . Therefore, the question here is whether judgments obtained in accordance with the Texas Tort Claims Act are payable from maintenance taxes levied by the District in accordance with Article XVI, Section 59 of the Texas Constitution. We hold that they are. In this holding, we find support in the briefs of both parties that judgments under the Tort Claims Act are incidental to and properly payable out of maintenance funds.")
  • City of Corpus Christi v. City of Pleasanton, 276 S.W.2d 798, 803 (Tex. 1955) ("In August of the same year the people adopted the Conservation Amendment, Article XVI, § 59, to the Constitution declaring the conservation of the state's natural resources, including water, to be a public right and duty. But the Amendment was not self-enacting. By the very terms of the Amendment the duty was enjoined upon the Legislature to implement the public policy found therein. It was said . . . . The power certainly does not lie with the courts to usurp the legislative function and say what types of conduits and reservoirs may be used for the transportation and storage of water, lawfully obtained and lawfully used.")
  • Deason v. Orange County Water Control & Improvement Dist. No. 1, 244 S.W.2d 981, 984 (Tex. 1952) ("Section 52, Article 3, specifies that water control and improvement districts may issue bonds for certain purposes. The purposes enumerated do not include the right to purchase, own and operate fire engines, fire-fighting equipment and appliances. Section 59(a), Article 16, the other constitutional amendment involved here, contains no language . . . . Both constitutional amendments specify the circumstances and purposes for which water control and improvement districts may be organized and the Legislature is without power to add to or withdraw from the circumstances and purposes specified.")
  • Kaufman County Levee Improvement Dist. v. National Life Ins. Co., 171 S.W.2d 188, 189 (Tex.Civ.App.—Dallas 1943, ref'd) ("The provision has the same meaning today that it had when first adopted as a part of . . . . Improvement districts, such as the District involved here, were unknown in 1845 when § 14 of Art. 16 became a part of the constitutional law of the state; nor did such districts come into existence until after the constitutional amendment known as § 52 of Art. 3 was adopted in November, 1904, and more extensively after the amendment known as § 59 of Art. 16 was adopted in August, 1917, hence we do not think § 14 of Art. 16 has any application whatever to the District involved here.")
  • Harris County Flood Control Dist. v. Mann, 140 S.W.2d 1098, 1104 (Tex. 1940) ("We are of the opinion that we have disposed of the contention that the 1937 Act violates that part of Section 56 of Article III of our State Constitution above indicated in our holding that this Act creates this District as a State governmental agency . . . . Simply stated, the Act of 1937 is fully authorized by Section 59 of Article XVI of our State Constitution, and the Act creating this District should not be classed as a local or special law within the meaning of the constitutional provision under discussion. Lower Colorado River Authority v. McCraw, [] 83 S.W.2d 629; Brazos River Con. & Rec. Dist. v. McCraw, [] 91 S.W.2d 665.")
  • Lower Colorado River Authority v. McCraw, 83 S.W.2d 629, 633 (Tex. 1935) ("In this connection, it is true that the last clause of subsection (c) provides that the Legislature shall not authorize districts organized under section 59 to issue bonds, or provide for any indebtedness against such districts, unless the proposition shall first be authorized by the qualified property taxpaying voters of the district; but it is clear from a reading of the whole subsection . . . . As already said, bonds payable out of revenues are not indebtednesses. It was the evident intention of this constitutional provision to only require a vote in instances where it is proposed to issue bonds or to authorize a debt payable out of tax funds.")
  • Parker v. El Paso Water Improvement Dist. No. 1, 297 S.W. 737, 742 (Tex. 1927) ("The improvement district cannot take that water and distribute it without his consent, provided he desires to and does use it. . . . If the plaintiff in error does not take his proportionate share of the riparian water and use it, then that proportion to which he is entitled, so long as he does not take it, under the modified rules of the common law applicable to the arid or semiarid states, increases the residue of riparian water in the river available for the use of others, including those whose lands are in the improvement district, and may be taken out of the river by them, or by the district for distribution, if they have authorized it to do so.")
  • Motl v. Boyd, 286 S.W. 458, 473 (Tex. 1926) ("We think it plain, too, that the amendments to the Constitution, adopted after the enactment of these statutes, one of them, the conservation amendment plainly making the distinction referred to, adopted the construction of the statutes which we have given, and the conclusion at which we have arrived, that riparian rights attach only to the ordinary and normal flow of the streams of the state, included in which are all waters, regardless of source, which do not rise above the line of highest ordinary and normal flow, and that such rights do not attach to the waters of the streams of the state when these waters rise above the highest line of ordinary normal flow.")
  • Dallas County Levee Dist. No. 2 v. Looney, 207 S.W. 310, 312-13 (Tex. 1918) ("It is clear that the Conservation Amendment does not undertake to prescribe any given rule for making the apportionment. It provides no express method by which the benefit to the particular . . . be ascertained, and accordingly refrains from the adoption of any express basis for the apportionment of the tax. The effect of the declaration simply is that it shall be justly laid in fair proportion to the benefit. If it is so apportioned, there can be no question but that an 'equal distribution' of the taxes will be accomplished within the full meaning of the term. The basis of apportionment, therefore, is by the amendment left to the Legislature.")

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