American Civic Life

Voters Back Rights for Elderly Visits, Eating and Clean Air

November 3, 2021

New rights to gather in worship and visit loved ones in nursing homes won overwhelming approval in Texas as voters pushed back against pandemic restrictions enacted by some officials to try to slow the spread of COVID-19.

The Texas measures were among several passed Tuesday in states creating new constitutional rights. Maine voters approved the nation’s first right for individuals to grow and eat food of their choosing. In New York, voters backed a right to clean air and water but rejected an expansion of voting rights.

Some ballot measures dealing with money also lost. An attempt to expand college sports betting failed in New Jersey while a proposal to raise taxes on marijuana products was losing in Colorado.

One of the Texas amendments will prohibit governments from issuing orders that limit religious services. It’s a backlash to public health orders in some large cities and counties that restricted the number of people who could gather indoors at the onset of the pandemic.

Another Texas amendment will create a right for residents in nursing homes and other group-living facilities to designate an “essential caregiver,” who can continue to visit even if the general public is barred from the facility. Like counterparts elsewhere, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott had barred nursing homes from admitting visitors as COVID-19 cases surged in facilities last year. The goal was to save lives, though it also prevented the elderly from connecting with family and friends.

Both Texas measures fortify similar laws enacted earlier this year. The nursing home amendment passed with 87% support and the religious services amendment with 62%.

“A message was sent this election,” Republican state Sen. Kelly Hancock said Wednesday. “The public overwhelmingly does not want an elected official to institute such restrictions as we saw instituted during this last pandemic ever again.”

Poll workers help voters at a polling place in New York, Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021. On Tuesday, voters in New York backed a right to clean air and water, as one of among roughly two dozen statewide ballot measures considered by voters across the U.S. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Poll workers help voters at a polling place in New York, Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021. On Tuesday, voters in New York backed a right to clean air and water, as one of among roughly two dozen statewide ballot measures considered by voters across the U.S. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

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