Con­ven­tion

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by the Leg­is­la­ture.

Un­der Ar­ti­cle V of the Con­sti­tu­tion, two-third soft he states can call for a Con­ven­tion of States. So far, eight states have joined the call. Last week, the Utah Se­nate voted “no.”

State Sen. Brian Bird­well, R-Gran­bury, who guided the Texas mea­sure, noted that even if a con­ven­tion ran amok, any pro­posed amend­ment would still re­quire the rat­i­fi­ca­tion of three-quar­ters of the states, mean­ing 13 states could block any change.

The call for a con­ven­tion, which should gain fi­nal Se­nate pas­sage later this week, faces an un­cer­tain fu­ture in the House, where it is not clear that it en­joys ma­jor­ity sup­port on the Se­lect Com­mit­tee on State and Fed­eral Power and Re­spon­si­bil­ity.

But in Tues­day’s Se­nate vote, state Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wi­chita Falls, who in the past was an adamant foe of a con­ven­tion that he con­sid­ered a po­ten­tially dan­ger­ous idea and said last week that he had in­formed the gov­er­nor he re­mained a skep­tic with an open mind, voted with the Se­nate’s other Repub­li­cans in what was a party-line vote.

“For decades, the fed­eral govern­ment has grown out of con­trol, in­creas­ingly aban­don­ing the Con­sti­tu­tion while stiff-arm­ing the states and ig­nor­ing its cit­i­zens,” said Ab­bott in a state­ment.

“This isn’t a prob­lem caused by one pres­i­dent and it won’t be solved by one pres­i­dent — it must be fixed by the peo­ple them­selves,” said Ab­bott, who de­voted much of his book, “Bro­ken but Un­bowed,” to an ar­gu­ment for a con­ven­tion that he be­lieves is needed to re­store the power of states in the fed­eral sys­tem.

While the idea does have fer­vent sup­port­ers, a Univer­sity of Texas/Texas Tribune poll re­leased last week found the pub­lic was mostly leery of tin­ker­ing with the Con­sti­tu­tion, and that those doubts cross ide­o­log­i­cal lines.

SJR 2 would call for a Con­ven­tion of States with lim­ited ob­jec­tives: “To im­pose fis­cal re­straints on the fed­eral govern­ment, to limit the power and ju­ris­dic­tion of the fed­eral govern­ment and to limit the terms of of­fice of fed­eral of­fi­cials and mem­bers of Congress.”

The three hours of de­bate on SJR 2 and two re­lated mea­sures re­vealed the kinds of con­cerns that led state Sen. Jane Nel­son, R-Flower Mound, to tell Bird­well early on, “My con­stituents are so torn and pas­sion­ate on both sides. Calm my fears.”

The fear is that what­ever the Texas Leg­is­la­ture man­dates, once a Con­ven­tion of States con­venes, the only prece­dent would be the orig­i­nal Con­sti­tu­tional Con­ven­tion, in which del­e­gates far ex­ceeded their man­date in what are now viewed as in­spired ways.

To ad­dress the con­cern that del­e­gates to a new con­ven­tion might ex­ceed their man­date with less salu­tary ef­fect, state Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mi­ne­ola, of­fered the amend­ment to im­pose crim­i­nal penal­ties on a del­e­gate who vi­o­lates his or her oath. Bird­well stren­u­ously ob­jected to that, say­ing it would in­ap­pro­pri­ately crim­i­nal­ize leg­isla­tive ac­tiv­ity. Bird­well said he thought the most se­ri­ous penalty the Leg­is­la­ture ought to be able to im­pose on a mem­ber is ex­pul­sion.

The Se­nate nonethe­less, on a 19-11 vote, ap­proved the Hughes amend­ment to SB 21, set­ting the rules and qual­i­fi­ca­tions for del­e­gates, who would be cho­sen from among the mem­bers of the Leg­is­la­ture

The Se­nate also ap­proved SJR 38, a res­o­lu­tion by state Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wi­chita Falls, to wipe the slate clean of all 14 pre­vi­ous calls by the Leg­is­la­ture for con­sti­tu­tional con­ven­tions go­ing back to 1899, ex­cept for a 1977 call for a con­ven­tion on a bal­anced bud­get — a call that has been ap­proved by 28 states — which will re­main on the books.

The Se­nate also agreed to an Estes amend­ment to SB 21 that would pro­hibit a leg­is­la­tor serv­ing as a del­e­gate to an Ar­ti­cle V con­ven­tion from re­ceiv­ing food, gifts or con­tri­bu­tions from lob­by­ists. State Sen. Larry Tay­lor, R-Friendswood, said that would un­fairly harm the re-elec­tion prospects of an af­fected leg­is­la­tor, but Estes replied that it might then be best for a leg­is­la­tor serv­ing as a del­e­gate not to seek re-elec­tion.

Tay­lor said he couldn’t imag­ine any cor­po­rate in­ter­ests try­ing to in­flu­ence a Con­ven­tion of States. But Sen. John Whit­mire, D-Hous­ton, who served for eight months on a state con­sti­tu­tional con­ven­tion in 1974, warned that, based on that ex­pe­ri­ence, mem­bers of a na­tional con­ven­tion would face unimag­in­able pres­sures.

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