Published 2:50 pm Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The Senate has approved bills this week on the last two items tagged as emergencies by Governor Greg Abbott in late January.   Measures relating to the call of a constitutional convention and foster system reform join bills banning sanctuary cities and reforming ethics rules for elected officials already sent to the House for consideration.

Tuesday, the Senate approved SJR 2 and SB 21, bills to call a constitutional convention and set rules for selecting and controlling delegates to that convention, respectively. Legislation author Senator Brian Birdwell of Granbury believes an out-of-control federal government must be reined in by the states. “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. The mechanism for that is found in Article V of the U.S. Constitution, which requires Congress to call a convention for the purpose of amending the nation’s founding document if 34 states formally petition for it. Any amendments approved at that convention are adopted if 38 states ratify it. So far, Birdwell says 8 other states have passed resolutions similar to SJR 2.

The formal petition from Texas is intended to be narrow in scope, calling only for amendments relating to limiting federal power, requiring a balanced federal budget and implementing term limits for federal elected officials.   SB 21 governs the selection and behavior of delegates to such a convention. They must be serving members of the Legislature and they must stay within the bounds of the topics set by the convention call. If they don’t, the Legislature retains full authority to recall and replace them. An amendment added by Tyler Senator Bryan Hughes would add the threat of criminal penalties to delegates who defy the will of the Legislature.

Wednesday, the Senate approved unanimously a bill that would continue the overhaul of the agency charged with child welfare and foster kids, the Department of Family and Protective Services. The agency has been under strict scrutiny since media reports emerged of an overworked, over-capacity system with kids going weeks or months without seeing case workers and being housed in hotel rooms and government offices.

The Senate’s DFPS reform bill, SB 11 by Georgetown Senator Charles Schwertner, seeks to expand a pilot program in North Texas where case management services for foster kids was turned over to a child-welfare focused non-profit. Schwertner told his colleagues that program has already shown success. “The single source continuum contractor in that region is keeping children and youth closer to home, moving children out of residential treatment centers and into therapeutic foster homes, keeping sibling groups together, as well as not allowing children to sleep in office buildings and hotel rooms,” he said. Though non-governmental organizations would begin to take over foster case management, Schwertner stressed more than once that the state would remain the ultimate guardian over foster kids. In looking to expand the program, the bill requires DFPS to develop standards by which the state can determine if contractors are ready to take over management as well as new metrics by which the success of these contractors can be judged.

The bill also includes new requirements for expedient medical examinations and evaluations for children entering the system and moves investigations of abuse and neglect under the Child Protective System.

The Senate will reconvene Monday, March 6 at 2 p.m.