Texas Senate approves Convention of States legislation

Senate approves 'Convention of States' bill

AUSTIN - The Texas Senate moved one step closer to calling a Convention of States Tuesday, voting to approve legislation to add Texas to the list of states calling for a convention.

Article V of the U.S. Constitution lays out a way states can make amendments to the constitution. If 34 states apply, Congress has to call a Convention of States where those amendments will be hashed out and voted on. 

Eight states have already applied to call a convention. 

Tuesday, Texas took steps to become the ninth state. The Senate voted 20-11 on Senate Joint Resolution 2 (SJR2) which applies for a convention. SJR2 outlines three things Texas wants to amend in a Convention of States: require congress pass a balanced budget, create term limits for members of Congress and limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government.

The last objective is cause for concern for Dallas Senator Royce West (D). During the debate on the resolution, West pointed out the intent of limiting power is to allow states to not abide by rulings from the Supreme Court unless a certain number of states agree to and to require a super majority vote by the court to overturn some laws.

West said that could open the door to discriminatory legislation. 

"I have a great deal of skepticism about this because of some of the old things that have happened in the past," West said. "In terms of specific states rights, women, Latinos, African Americans have all been subject to a lot of those state laws  that were promulgated and that ultimately had to be struck down by the Supreme Court."

"Under what you're proposing," West said to the resolution's author Senator Brian Birdwell (R-Waco), "If the constitutional convention comes up with some recommendations in there and they're actually voted on by 3/4ths of the states. if something is unconstitutional based on civil rights, then it would take at least seven of the justices to make that determination, otherwise, the statute would stand."

"And so if slavery was in existence right now and your constitution was in existence right now slavery would frankly probably still be in existence because the reality is that I don't' believe seven justices sided on many of these great constitutional decisions," West said. "And women would probably be of a similar fate and Latinos also."

Senator Birdwell responded, saying "I take this exceedingly seriously. And whether your melanin, my melanin, you will find no greater defender of your right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness than me."

"I am trying to legislate to structure, not to what the policy is," he added. 

In addition to passing SJR2, Senators also approved Senate Bill 21 also written by Senator Birdwell. It states if a convention is called, the delegation from Texas is to be made up of Texas Representatives and Senators. 

Birdwell's bill was amended, against his wishes, to make it a criminal offense for lawmakers in the convention delegation to cast votes that are unauthorized by the Texas legislature. 

Calling a Convention of States was identified by Governor Greg Abbott as an emergency item which allows the Legislature to vote on items related to it within the first 60-days of the session. The Senate could take a final vote on the items Wednesday, which would send the resolution and bill to the House.

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