The Lone Star State could be the next to join a growing number of states across the nation calling for an Article V Convention to rein in the federal government – but only if the Texas House acts quickly to pass the measure and remove a poison pill inserted by State Rep. Larry Gonzales (R–Round Rock).
On Thursday, a Texas House committee passed Senate Joint Resolution 2 by State Sen. Brian Birdwell (R–Granbury) on a party line vote of 5-2. If passed on the House floor, the measure – which is a legislative priority of the Republican Party of Texas and Gov. Greg Abbott – would be a major victory for conservatives across the state.
SJR 2 is a resolution calling for an Article V Convention of States. If an identical measure is passed by a total of two-thirds of the states, an Article V Convention would be called. Enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, the procedure allows states to “call a convention for proposing amendments,” which are valid “when ratified by the legislatures of three fourths thereof.”
Abbott made Convention of States one of his top goals this session, naming it an “emergency priority” and giving the Texas Legislature a jumpstart on passing the issue. With the support of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the Texas Senate responded and passed the measure by a party-line vote of 20-11 early in the session.
From there its future was uncertain, as it appeared that House Speaker Joe Straus had placed barriers to the legislation passing. First, Straus delayed referring the measure for a month, and then he sent it to a committee he’d stacked with foes of the legislation and Democrats. Two of the Republicans on the committee even voted against the measure last session.
The message was clear: Straus intended to use Convention of States (and other conservative legislation) as political hostages in an attempt to force Abbott and others to allow him to raid the Rainy Day Fund and enable a grow-government spending spree.
Conservatives were placed on high alert and supporters rallied to the Capitol multiple times demanding that Straus not use the issue as a political football and instead allow it to come to the floor for a vote. National conservative radio host Mark Levin even called out one of the measure’s opponents, State Rep. Larry Gonzales (R–Round Rock), on Facebook and urged his audience to call on him to support Convention of States.
After a barrage of phone calls, Gonzales ultimately voted for the legislation, but not before he inserted an amendment that could spell doom for Convention of States.
In essence, Gonzales’ amendment makes the passage of SJR 2 contingent on two parallel measures for which there could be disagreement between the two chambers of the Texas Legislature. That could set up a scenario where the Texas House passes a Convention of States resolution knowing that the other measures will fail in conference.
Such a scenario would allow the Texas House to “pass” Convention of States, but prevent Texas from being counted towards the call.
Tamara Colbert with the Convention of States Project, a grassroots organization promoting the measure, had harsh words for Gonzales and any other lawmakers seeking to place obstacles in the way of its passage.
“Anyone who underestimates the Convention of States grassroots will sorely regret their decision,” said Colbert. “There is an army of citizens across the state keeping close watch on every single vote and every single member. Convention of States has the support of the Republican Party of Texas, Gov. Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the Texas Senate, and 80 members of the Texas House. We expect the Texas Legislature to pass this issue and are calling on our elected officials to keep their word.”
All eyes will now turn back towards Straus, whose lieutenants have ultimate control over what will happen to the legislation. Passed late enough in the session, Convention of States isn’t guaranteed to make it through the process and come to a vote without an active effort to move it along. Straus could still very well kill the legislation by bottling it up in the Calendars Committee, or sentence it to “death by deadline” by placing it deep enough in the queue that Democrats can kill it.
Once it comes to the floor, conservatives will need to strip Gonzales’ changes from the resolution in order to ensure that it is effective when it passes. For this issue and other conservative reforms to pass, citizens will have to continue demanding that lawmakers deliver on the promises they made during campaign season. The clock is ticking.