The Senate State Affairs Committee honored Gov. Greg Abbott’s emergency item call for a Convention of States to amend the U.S. Constitution in its hearing Thursday morning.
Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, who is known for sometimes siding with his Republican counterparts, voted to pass the bill onto the floor of the Senate. The lone dissenter was Sen. Judith Zaffrini, D-Laredo.
The committee took up two pieces of legislation, Senate Bill 21 by Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, and Senate Joint Resolution 2, which narrows the scope of the convention to federal fiscal restraints, checks on the power of federal government and term limits for federal officials.
Per Birdwell’s bill, delegates to the Constitutional Convention must be currently elected members of the House or Senate, so they remain accountable to voters. Delegates would not be eligble to be compensated and would swear an oath to only discuss constitutional changes within the confines of Texas’ resolution or the convention’s subject matter. The Legislature could remove a delegate if it deems the change necessary. The call for a convention would only last for 12 years, after which time it would expire.
The call focuses on an ever-tense relationship between the federal and state government, with both entities jockeying for more power. Birdwell said the federal government has taken on too much and has pushed the boundaries of its control over states.
“Today, the federal government treats the states as nothing more than subcontractors,” Birdwell said.
If you have forgotten constitutional history from your high school U.S. history class, Community Impact Newspaper has provided a recap on how to amend the U.S. Constitution below.
The Constitution can be amended in one of two ways — the U.S. House and U.S. Senate can vote with a two-thirds majority on individual amendments or two-thirds of the state legislatures can vote to call a convention under which many amendments can be proposed.
To date, the Constitution has 27 total amendments, all of which were proposed by the U.S. Congress. A constitutional convention has never been used before to amend the Constitution since its creation. The last time the Constitution was amended was in 1992, when the 27th Amendment, which deals with the salaries of federally elected officials, was passed.
Notably, this amendment was first proposed in 1789. Even if an amendment does not pass with the necessary number of votes the first time it is proposed, it can live on as a proposed amendment indefinitely.
It takes 34 states total to call for a convention. Birdwell said eight states have already done so while 34 states have filed resolutions to call for a convention.
While all Republicans on the Senate committee did vote to advance this measure, it is not a clear party-line issue. Members of both parties have expressed concern with the limits of a constitutional convention. Once a convention is opened, there are no restrictions on what it will do in terms of amending the Constitution.
Zaffrini also questioned how the Legislature could ensure a bipartisan delegation when Republicans completely control the Texas Legislature. Birdwell said he has left this matter up to the Legislature at the time of the convention.
Many of those giving public testimony agreed checking the federal government’s power was necessary but again questioned how they could ensure the convention would only stick to the state’s priority items and not go beyond them.