KELLEY SHANNON,AP Political Writer
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas voters on Tuesday passed a proposition limiting the government's eminent domain powers and another creating a fund for more top-tier research universities, along with nine other constitutional amendments on the ballot.
Proposition 11 — the eminent domain amendment supported by the Texas Farm Bureau, Gov. Rick Perry and Perry's Republican rival, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison — had 81 percent of the vote favoring it and 19 percent against, with nearly 80 percent of all precincts reporting.
A proposition to guarantee public access to beaches and another to help build veterans hospitals also sailed to passage.
Those were the highest-profile propositions in a low-key statewide election.
Only spotty opposition emerged to any of the proposed amendments.
Proposition 4 aims to create a national research university fund out of $500 million in existing state money. Currently, Texas has three top-level research universities: the University of Texas at Austin; Texas A&M University and Rice University. It lags behind other big states like California and New York, proponents said. Seven other Texas universities are vying to achieve so-called Tier One status.
"Tonight's passage of Proposition 4 sends this important message: Texans understand that more nationally recognized research universities will help retain Texas-grown talent, recruit top researchers who will generate billions of dollars in economic growth and create more high paying, permanent jobs," said former Lt. Governor Bill Hobby, co-chair of Texans for Tier One.
Proposition 11 to limit eminent domain powers will state in the constitution that governments in Texas are prevented from seizing private property and giving it to a private developer to boost the tax base.
Both major Republican candidates for governor issued statements on the election outcome.
"By approving Proposition 11, the voters of Texas have sent a clear message: Don't mess with private property rights," Perry said.
Hutchison praised the results and said it was a "first step" toward changing eminent domain laws.
"Texans have sent a clear message that private property rights are sacred. I look forward to working with the Legislature to further strengthen the respect for private property as the next governor of Texas," Hutchison said.
Texas Farm Bureau President Kenneth Dierschke said passage of the amendment was an important, but incomplete, victory. He said Texas' eminent domain laws still favor the condemner of property.
One group opposed to Prop 11 was the private property and anti-toll road organization Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom, which said the proposed amendment leaves open loopholes and doesn't address issues like diminished access to remaining land after an eminent domain seizure.
Terri Hall, founder and director of TURF, said Texans sent a strong message with their vote Tuesday that they want eminent domain reform, but she said Prop 11 doesn't get the job done.
"The Texas Legislature needs to continue the push for further reforms and to prevent abuses," she said.
Proposition 9 cements in the Texas Constitution the state's open beaches law. Backers said it will protect public beach access from lawsuits or legislative interference, while opponents said it could erode private property rights.
All the ballot propositions had to win two-thirds passage in the Legislature to go before voters.