Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s marquee initiative, convening a convention of the states to limit the federal government, is on life support after loyalists to House Speaker Joe Straus inserted language designed to kill the proposal.
Article V of the US Constitution provides two paths for amendments: by proposals originating on Congress and ratified by the states, or by a convention of states proposing the amendments which are then ratified by all the states. Such a convention cannot occur without two-thirds of the states issuing a call, and amendments can be adopted only with the approval of three-fourths of the states.
Each state must adopt the same resolution language in order for a convention to occur.
Abbott made calling for a Convention of States an emergency item in January after Texas’ Republican Party named it a top priority last summer.
Responding to both Abbott and grassroots Texans who strongly favored the legislation, the Texas Senate passed the resolution early in the session, but it sat untouched by Straus and his leadership team until last week.
In committee, Convention of States opponent State Rep. Larry Gonzales, a liberal Republican from Williamson County, inserted new language in the resolution making it valid only if two other Senate-adopted measures were also finally passed. In turn, Gonzales and his allies then modified those measures. In essence, Gonzales and the Straus coalition created a situation in which the bills are all but guaranteed to be bogged down in the end-of-session calendar.
The most egregious of the changes, though, were made not to the COS resolution itself, but a separate measure establishing the process by which Texas’ delegates to a convention would be selected.
The Senate version had those delegates come from the legislature; once enough states had passed resolution calling for a convention, Senate Bill 21 would have required the governor – Abbott or his successor – to call a special session for the purpose of the legislators picking the delegates from among themselves. This was done to ensure that the delegates truly represent the interests of Texans.
The radically altered House version, sponsored by State Rep. Phil King (R-Weatherford), requires that the governor – Abbott or his successor – both be a delegate and select the delegates to the convention.
According to sources in the legislature, neither King nor the House leadership notified SB 21’s author – State Sen. Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury) – before making the change. The altered SB 21 was passed off the House floor with almost no discussion or debate, with most lawmakers unaware changes had been made.
With the adversely modified COS resolution, SJR 2, set for the Thursday House calendar, conservative lawmakers will have to try to strip the Gonzales language on the floor by amendment.
Only if they are successful in doing so can Texas’ COS supporters count a vote for SJR2 as a positive.
Either way, Abbott will have seen yet again this legislative session that the Texas House is actively working to thwart his agenda and the agenda of Republican voters.