Published 2:48 pm Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Texas would add its support for a convention called to amend the U.S. Constitution under a measure approved by the Senate Tuesday.   One of Governor Abbott’s emergency priorities, this legislation would look to craft amendments intended to rein in the power of the federal government. Author Senator Brian Birdwell of Granbury believes it is up to the states to restore the balance of power between them and the federal government . “It is abundantly clear to me that the Congress is incapable of or unwilling to propose amendments that limit its own power or that of the other branches to return our nation to the original spirit of federalism intended by our founders,” he said.

Article Five of the U.S. Constitution permits the states to petition the federal government to call a constitutional convention. If 34 states submit formal petitions, then Congress must call a convention. Any amendments agreed to by delegates to this convention must be ratified by 38 states in order to become part of the Constitution. The first measure passed by the Senate Tuesday, SB 21, would govern the selection and behavior of Texas delegates to an Article V convention. All members must be serving members of the state Legislature, and must stick to topics laid out in the convention call. The Legislature would retain full authority to recall and replace any delegate that proposes or votes for an amendment outside the scope, and an amendment added by Tyler Senator Bryan Hughes would allow for a state jail felony to be charged to any delegates not following those rules.   The application, passed in the form of SJR 2 on Tuesday, would limit the scope of the convention to amendments relating to a federal balanced budget, reining in the power of the federal government, and adding term limits to elected federal officials.

Also Tuesday, members of the Senate Finance Committee heard several bills relating to reducing or eliminating the state franchise tax. Passed in 2006 to offset local school property tax cuts, opponents of the tax say it is a burden on business than hinders growth and job creation. Senate Finance Chair Jane Nelson of Flower Mound offered her own bill to phase out and eventually eliminate the tax. “We need to get rid of it,” she said.

Her bill, SB 17, would offer tax relief when economic growth is predicted to exceed five percent, as forecasted in the Comptroller’s biennial revenue estimate. Half of all general-revenue related funds above five percent would be dedicated to paying down the franchise tax rate, with the eventual goal of eliminating the tax. “For Texas to thrive, for businesses to grow, for jobs to be created, we have to support our businesses,” said Nelson. ” With this bill, as our economy grows, so does the tax relief.”   She added that her preference would be an immediate repeal of the tax, but a tight budget cycle means that isn’t practical this session. “We can, over time as the economy allows, gradually reduce and ultimately eliminate this horrible tax,” said Nelson.

Another bill before the committee on Tuesday would expand franchise tax relief by exempting more businesses from it.   Currently, businesses that gross less than $1 million per year don’t have to pay the state franchise tax. SB 575, by Georgetown Senator Charles Schwertner, would raise the exemption threshold to $4 million. He says this would exempt sixty-thousand small businesses, nearly half of the businesses paying the tax today, but only reduce tax revenue by nine percent. “As the Legislature continues the conversation about phasing out the franchise tax, this proposed change would benefit the most amount of businesses for the least amount of money,” said Schwertner.

Both bills remain pending before the committee.

The Senate will reconvene Wednesday, March 1 at 11 a.m.