Gov. Greg Abbott says state legislatures nationwide should convene a convention to amend the U.S. Constitution and restore freedoms embodied by President Ronald Reagan.
But Texas lawmakers have been trying to rewrite the Constitution since before Reagan took office — and even since before he was born.
The Legislature has called for a convention to propose constitutional amendments 16 times previously, according to a list compiled by Gregory Watson, legislative director for Fort Worth Republican Rep. Stephanie Klick. The first one, in 1899, was boundless, simply “proposing amendments to said Constitution” — but later calls got far more specific.
In 1911, lawmakers wanted a constitutional convention to prohibit polygamy. In 1949, they sought to stop federal seizure of state tidelands. There was a call for one to overhaul the Electoral College in 1963. Nine years later, the Legislature backed a constitutional convention for an amendment opposing forced busing to integrate public schools.
Abbott has nine reforms he’d like enshrined in the Constitution and a key one is a federal balanced budget amendment. But the Legislature already called for a constitutional convention on that very issue in 1977 and 1978.
Klick has introduced legislation voiding Texas’ previous convention calls. A measure by Republican Sen. Craig Estes of Wichita Falls goes further, seeking to rescind “each and every application made at any time.” The idea is to replace all that historical clutter with a call to advance only top modern, conservative goals.
The Texas Senate is poised to pass a call for a constitutional convention early this week, including Estes’ slate-clearing proposal. If ultimately approved, the new directive should stand until some future Legislature decides it too wants to call for a constitutional convention — and for new, better, reasons than those devised way back in 2017.
Here are other topics to watch this week in Texas politics:
The Senate State Affairs Committee on Monday hears a bill seeking to eliminate “wrongful birth” lawsuits. It would rescind existing Texas law allowing parents of children born with severe birth defects to sue for negligence if they believe doctors didn’t properly inform them of possible problems with carrying a pregnancy to term.
The law arose after 1975, when the Texas Supreme Court ruled that suing parents were entitled to damages to cover the extra costs of raising a child with disabilities. Its repeal is backed by anti-abortion advocates, who argue existing law indirectly encourages terminating pregnancies.
VOTER ID BACK IN COURT
Federal judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos has denied a request by state Attorney General Ken Paxton and the Justice Department to delay a hearing on Texas’ strict voter ID law — meaning all sides should appear Tuesday in her Corpus Christi courtroom.
They’d sought to have the case delayed until after the legislative session because Texas Senate Republicans have introduced a revised voter ID bill that could address problems federal courts previously have identified with the existing Texas law.
Before November’s presidential election, Gonzales Ramos required Texas to allow people without one of the seven forms of ID Texas has deemed acceptable to vote by signing a sworn declaration stating they have a reasonable impediment to obtaining one. The Senate bill makes the affidavit option permanent while also calling for prison sentences of up to 10 years for anyone convicted of lying on a sworn declaration.
But Gonzales Ramos ruled that the case shouldn’t be stopped regardless of legislative action.
Under the Obama administration, the Justice Department opposed Texas’ law as discriminatory. Seeking the delay indicated that President Donald Trump could abandon the federal government’s opposition to it. Tuesday’s hearing may provide still more clues on the new administration’s plans.
HOUSE’S FIRST BILL
House lawmakers on Wednesday are set to debate and pass two bills overhauling the state’s troubled foster care system, making those the chamber’s first legislation approves this session.
The Senate has already passed several bills — including a hotly debated immigration measure outlawing “sanctuary cities.” Abbott made the foster care fix a top legislative priority, noting that more than 100 kids died while in the state system last year alone.