Texas House approves Abbott-backed call for convention of states

The Texas House Thursday adopted a resolution calling for a convention of states to amend the U.S. Constitution — one of Gov. Greg Abbott’s emergency items this legislative session.

State Rep. Rick Miller, R-Sugar Land, holds a copy of the U.S. Constitution while on the floor of the Texas House on May 4, 2017.
State Rep. Rick Miller, R-Sugar Land, holds a copy of the U.S. Constitution while on the floor of the Texas House on May 4, 2017.  Bob Daemmrich for The Texas Tribune

The Texas House on Thursday adopted a resolution calling for a convention of states to amend the U.S. Constitution — one of Gov. Greg Abbott’s four emergency items this legislative session.

Senate Joint Resolution 2, one of three pieces of legislation relating to the topic approved by the Senate in February, proposes amendments that would enact term limits for U.S. officials, impose spending limits on the federal government and limit its power. The resolution was approved on a party line vote, 94-51, with two House Republicans, state Reps. Geanie Morrison, R-Victoria, and Ron Simmons, R-Carrollton, voting against. 

“This should not be a partisan issue,” said state Rep. Rick Miller, R-Sugar Land, who carried the proposal in the House. “Even with administration changes this past year, we still believe the federal government is out of control, and we’re standing up for states’ rights.”

The debate on SJR 2 was relatively mild, but the harshest opposition to the proposal came from state Rep. Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio, who said it was ironic House Republicans were discussing federal overreach after they passed a “sanctuary” bill last week that would allow local law enforcement to question a detained person’s immigration status.

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“We’re talking about your so-called federal overreach, and yet your own party suggested last week to all of us that we want to have more of the federal government in our backyard,” Gutierrez told Miller. “Ronald Reagan is long gone and dead in the Republican Party, and he’d be rolling in his grave.”

A national convention could only happen if 34 states sign onto the idea. Texas would be the 11th to call for one, and if the state adopted SJR 2, Miller said another 10-12 states would follow, potentially bringing the tally to 23 states.

State Rep. Chris Turner, a Democrat from Grand Prairie, attempted to add an amendment to SJR 2 that would remove members from Congress if they colluded with foreign governments — a measure, he said, that was needed under the Trump administration.

“Our country has been rocked by revelations of foreign governments interfering in our national elections, and many questions remain about whether or not officials with the Trump organization colluded with Vladimir Putin and the Russian government,” he said on the House floor. “We have an obligation to make sure our elections are protected by outside influences.”

His amendment was tabled.

The House on Thursday also officially approved Senate Bill 21, which outlines the duties and limitations of Texas delegates at a national convention. Under the measure, only state lawmakers serving at the time of a convention would be allowed to represent Texas as delegates.

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The lower chamber adopted SJR 38, the third proposal in the package, without any debate Wednesday. The resolution would cancel all but one of the Legislature’s prior calls for a convention — some more than 100 years old.

In a statement after the House adopted SJR 2 Thursday, Abbott applauded the chamber, calling their move an important milestone “toward restraining a runaway federal government.”

“The Texas Legislature has heard and responded to the voices of those they represent,” he said, “and I applaud the efforts of the Texas House to pass this important resolution.”

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • The House Select Committee on State and Federal Power and Responsibility voted out measures in April that aim to pull powers from the federal government and hand it to the states.
  • The Texas Senate approved a resolution in February calling for a convention of states to amend the U.S. Constitution, one of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's four emergency items.
  • Gov. Greg Abbott squared the new political reality in December with his long-standing crusade to amend the U.S. Constitution by arguing President-elect Donald Trump "epitomizes exactly why we need a convention of states."