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Conference committee approves convention of states-related measure

A Texas legislative committee reinstalled a Senate provision in a bill that would only allow state lawmakers to serve as delegates in a convention of states to amend the U.S. Constitution.

People interested in the convention of states process listened to Gov. Greg Abbott speak on Texans' role at the state Capitol on Dec. 6, 2016.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with comments from Rep. Phil King and Sen. Bryan Hughes.

If Texas puts together a delegation for a convention of states to amend the U.S. Constitution, only state lawmakers would be eligible.

That's the gist of a compromise members of the House and Senate came to on Tuesday to strike a deal over Senate Bill 21. The bill now heads back to both chambers for final approval, and if it gets the nod from each one by Sunday, it will head to Abbott’s desk for a signature.

The conference committee reinstalled a Senate provision in the bill that would allow only state lawmakers to serve as delegates — House members had modified the bill in April to expand membership to citizens and the governor — while keeping out language that would impose criminal penalties on delegates who cast an "unauthorized vote" without the Legislature's blessing.  

State Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, carried SB 21 in the House, and told the Tribune Tuesday night the latest version of the legislation was a good “preparatory bill” to have in place should a national convention ever happen, adding there didn’t seem to be a need for delegates to be faced with the threat of a criminal penalty.

“The concern for the House was if you put in criminal penalties, people might be a little afraid to volunteer for that service,” King said.

State Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, who successfully tacked the criminal penalty onto SB 21 on the Senate floor in February before the lower chamber stripped it in April, told Tribune Tuesday night that despite the language not getting reinstalled, the bill was good as is.

“Of course I’m disappointed that no criminal penalty made it into the final version,” Hughes said. “But the House and Senate worked in good faith to find a compromise, and overall I think it’s still a strong bill.

A call for a convention of states was one of Gov. Greg Abbott’s emergency items this session. Both chambers have already approved resolutions calling for a convention of states to amend the U.S. Constitution — through constitutional amendments limiting terms for U.S. officials and curbing federal government spending and power — and another canceling all but one of the Legislature’s prior calls for one.

Supporters say a convention is needed to stop federal overreach and balance state and federal power, while those opposed are wary of the power delegates could wield at a national convention.

Lawmakers have submitted Senate Joint Resolutions 2 and 38 to the U.S. Congress, joining 11 other states in supporting a national convention — which could only happen if 34 states endorse the idea.

State Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, authored SB 21 in the upper chamber and earlier this month told his colleagues that he opposed the House’s changes because allowing the governor to be a delegate improperly blended “the executive and legislative branch functions” at a convention of states.

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • The Texas House in May 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.
  • The House Select Committee on State and Federal Power and Responsibility considered measures that aim to pull powers from the federal government and hand it to the states.
  • The Texas Senate approved the convention of states resolution in February

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State government 85th Legislative Session Greg Abbott Texas Legislature