AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Could a “convention of states” be a tough sell in Texas?
Few things are dearer to Gov. Greg Abbott’s political heart than his call to have legislatures around the country convene a convention to amend the U.S. Constitution and impose things like a federal balanced budget and congressional term limits.
Abbott made it a centerpiece of his book last year and an “emergency item” for state lawmakers this session. While the idea might have appealed to some conservatives under President Barack Obama, though, a Donald Trump White House and Republican-controlled Congress has some wondering why, with the GOP having so much federal power, would Texas want to limit what Washington can do?
Meanwhile, members of the Texas Eagle Forum and other tea party and grassroots activists have long opposed a convention of states, fearing that calling one could spark a “runaway convention” where liberal invitees target the 2nd Amendment and other constitutional fundamentals conservatives love.
Texas isn’t the only state struggling with this. Republicans now hold majorities in 33 state legislatures nationwide — just one shy of the two-third needed to initiate a convention on constitutional amendments. Yet, the idea hasn’t caught fire nationally any more than it has in Texas, at least not yet.
Bills supporting a “convention of states” have been filed in each Texas chamber and House Speaker Joe Straus created a special committee to consider amendments to the U.S. Constitution while monitoring federal legislation, regulations and unfunded mandates that adversely affect states.
So far, though, it seems this might one issue where Abbott’s wish isn’t necessarily the Legislature’s command. Here are some other topics making more-immediate news this week in Texas politics:
UNION DUES BILL
The Senate State Affairs Committee plans Monday to hear a bill by its chairwoman, Houston Republican Sen. Joan Huffman, seeking to end automatic payroll deductions for unions and professional organizations — which labor activists say will weaken public employee bargaining power.
Abbott mentioned the issue in last month’s State of the State address but didn’t make it an emergency item. Neither chamber can pass non-emergency bills until the Legislature has been in session for 60 days, a deadline that’s still about a month away.
But Huffman’s committee may nonetheless approve the bill quickly and get it to the full chamber to pass in March. A similar bill cleared the Senate in 2015 but never got a House floor vote.
TRANSGENDER SCHOOL BATHROOMS CASE
A panel of the U.S. 5th Circuit Court is convening in Austin on Tuesday and is scheduled to hear arguments on an Obama administration order requiring public schools to let transgender students use the bathrooms and locker rooms of their choice.
Texas and 12 other states sued last year, and U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor in Fort Worth issued a temporary injunction. State Attorney General Ken Paxton said he doesn’t expect this week’s hearing to decide the fate of that injunction and others also believe it may not produce a major ruling in the case.
But the hearing could still provide key clues about whether Trump eventually will defend — or abandon — one of his predecessor’s hotly debated transgender policies. On Friday night, Trump’s Justice Department submitted a brief withdrawing the federal government’s previous request to limit the scope of O’Connor’s injunction only to the 13 states that have sued. That doesn’t necessarily halt all objections to O’Connor’s injunction, but suggests the new White House may not defend the school bathroom order as vigorously as the previous administration.
HOUSE BUDGET MEETINGS
Moments after Straus announced committee assignments on Thursday, the chamber’s newly named chief budget writer, Republican Rep. John Zerwas of Richmond, called an Appropriations Committee meeting for 7:30 a.m. Monday.
The Senate got its committee assignments faster and its budget writers have already been meeting for weeks, polishing a proposed draft budget worth $103.6 billion. Zerwas and his committee will now begin working on a House draft budget worth nearly $109 billion and containing key differences with its upper chamber counterpart on funding levels for border security and public education.
How both chambers reconcile spending priorities — especially with state revenue dwindling as oil prices stay so low — will be shape the legislative session perhaps more than any other issue.