Published 8:17 am Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Texas would join eight other states in calling for a new constitutional convention under legislation considered Thursday by the Senate State Affairs Committee.   This plan would seek to restrict new amendments to those relating to reining in the authority of the federal government. Author Senator Brian Birdwell of Granbury said that this action may be necessary to return America to the government the Founding Fathers intended. “For years we’ve watched as the executive, judicial and frankly the legislative branches have usurped more and more power from the states,” he said. “It is my firm belief that the only way we will save this republic and federalism as a whole is to go about the process of the states taking control of the federal government that they created.”

The U.S. constitution allows the states to petition for a convention for the purpose of amending the document if 34 out of 50 states pass resolutions in favor. Amendments passed by convention delegates would then need to be ratified by 38 states in order to be added into the Constitution.   The call under consideration before the committee in the form of SJR 2 has tight limitations, and only asks for amendments relating to three areas: a balanced budget for the Federal government, term limits for federal officeholders and empowering state sovereignty.

Once a convention is called, it’s up to each state to pick a delegation of representatives to attend. SB 21, also by Birdwell, governs that process. Two-fifths of the delegates would be chosen by the senate, and three-fifths by the House. They must be active legislators at the time of the call, and they would be prohibited from any monetary compensation or gifts during their term. The Legislature maintains authority to recall and replace any rogue delegate that proposes an amendment or votes for one that is out of bounds of the call laid out in SJR 2.   This bill, if it becomes law, would also govern delegates under any Article V convention, not just the one under consideration in SJR2, that may be called in the future.

There has never been an Article V convention in the history of the U.S., but it has come close before.   Every state except for Hawaii has called for a convention at one time or another. Efforts to call a convention to pass a balanced budget amendment came close in 1983, with 32 out of the 34 required states passing resolutions, but fears of an unbounded convention opening up the entire document to review eventually sunk those efforts.   Birdwell said there’s renewed interest in calling a narrowly bounded convention to combat what he sees as untenable overreach of federal power. “Since 2013, eight states have passed resolutions like SJR2, stretching from Florida to Alaska,” he said. “Sixteen other states have since passed resolutions through their state House or state Senate and 44 states have filed this resolution for consideration.”

This is the fourth and final area of emergency legislation taken up by the Senate since Governor Greg Abbott laid them out in his State of the State speech on the last day of January. The body as a whole has already approved bills relating to banning sanctuary cities and ethics reform, and a bill to reform the state’s Child Protective Services system is under review in a Senate committee. The bills considered today were passed by the committee and will now move on the to the full Senate for consideration.

The Senate will reconvene Tuesday, February 21 at 11 a.m.