Lawsuit Follows Judge Emmett's Decision Against Putting Education Proposal on November Ballot

Attorney William Bednar (left) Harris County Judge Ed Emmett
Harris County Judge Ed Emmett announced that he will not put an item on the November election ballot that would have called for a tax increase to support early childhood education. The decision was immediately followed by the filing of a lawsuit.

Monday was the deadline for Judge Emmett to put the early childhood education measure on the ballot for this November's election.

Non-profit organization "Citizens for School Readiness" has collected more than 150,000 signatures on a petition asking Emmett to include the item.

But the county judge says he's requested the legal opinion of an attorney with experience in education law, William Bednar of Austin. That led to Emmett's decision.

"It is my determination that the proposed ballot language used in the petition does not meet the requirement of Section 18.09. Furthermore, the restrictive nature of the proposed ballot language violates Section 18.14, which specifies the distribution of equalization tax funds. Therefore, I have no authority or jurisdiction to issue an election order based upon the petition."

The petition evokes the Texas Education Code for the request. It's a bit complicated but Section 18.09 establishes the wording of the proposition on the ballot.

Section 18.14 says the tax would have to be distributed among the school districts in the county.

"That's what the tax is all about. So you can't take that and interpret that and say, well, you have to spend it all on early childhood education, no matter how much you like early childhood education."

Richard Mithoff, attorney for the Early to Rise campaign
Richard Mithoff, attorney for the Early to Rise campaign
 

In response, Richard Mithoff, attorney for the Early to Rise campaign, has filed a lawsuit asking a court of appeals to force Emmett to include the item on the ballot.

"The law, we believe, is clear. This is not a discretionary obligation. Once the voters satisfy the obligation and once the requisite number of signatures are placed on the petition, the county judge, according to statute, shall place the matter on the ballot."

Mithoff says he expects the court to make a decision within the next 10 to 15 days, enough time to get the proposal placed on the ballot after all.

The Early to Rise campaign enjoys support from Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia and Houston ISD Superintendent Terry Grier among others.

The proposed tax could generate $25 million per year, which the nonprofit Harris County School Readiness Corporation would use to provide training and assistance to pre-school programs.

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Florian Martin

Reporter/NewsLab Coordinator

Florian Martin is the KUHF NewsLab Coordinator. While guiding and overseeing interns, he works on his own stories and is always on call to cover breaking news and other media events...