Texas again ponders calling for convention of states

(Texas Tribune) -- With the next legislative session on the horizon, lawmakers on Tuesday began debating the notion that Texas should join a call for a convention of states to amend the U.S. Constitution, a prospect possible only if two-thirds of states sign on to the idea.

“This is not just an idea,” Andrew Oldham, deputy general counsel in Gov. Greg Abbott’s office, said before a packed room mostly filled with constitutionalist convention supporters. “It’s a movement. It’s supported by an enormous and broad grassroots campaign.”

In his book “Broken But Unbowed,” Abbott wrote that states must use powers granted to them in Article V to amend the Constitution.

“When measured by how far we have strayed from the Constitution we originally agreed to, the government’s flagrant and repeated violations of the rule of law amount to a wholesale abdication of the Constitution’s design,” he wrote in a 90-page proposal in January.

By law, 34 states must ask for a constitutional convention before it can convene, and any amendments it promulgated would require the support of at least 38 states to become law.

At a speech in January before the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation, Abbott called for nine new amendments to the Constitution to limit the powers of the government including requiring a balanced U.S. budget and prohibiting Congress from regulating any activity “that occurs wholly within one state.”

The governor is set to ask Texas lawmakers to approve a call for the constitutional convention in the 2017 session. A similar bill passed the Texas House in 2015 but died in a Senate committee.

Committee chair Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, seemed to support a renewed effort in the next session.

“This is heavy lifting for each state, and a convention will be super heavy lifting,” King said. “But I’m excited that the House passed out resolutions last time, and I’m excited we’re going to be looking at them again this time.”

Anthony Gutierrez, executive director of Common Cause Texas, spoke out against the prospect in a statement issued after the hearing.

“This could very well be the most dangerous idea in American politics,” Gutierrez said. “There are very few actual rules in place for how a convention would work and it would be a monumentally bad idea to attempt to craft those rules in this current political environment.”

According to Gutierrez, a constitutional convention would be unpredictable because there are no rules governing the process. The last convention was held in 1787, which resulted in a new Constitution. In addition, no legislative, judicial or executive body would have clear authority to settle disputes.

“With no rules and the influence of special interests, a constitutional convention would put every Americans’ basic civil and constitutional rights up for grabs,” he said.

Rep. Travis Clardy, R-Nacogdoches, said he was open to supporting an Article V convention, but reminded members that many critics are fear a runaway convention.

“It should be extraordinarily difficult to pass these things,” Clardy said.

Abbott’s spokesman said the possibility of a threat is “dramatically outweighed by the benefit.”

“It’s quite a strong supermajority requirement embedded in Article V,” Oldham said, adding that it would be difficult to garner enough attention from state legislature’s to move forward with a convention and a new amendment.

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Copyright 2016 WFAA


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