House joins Senate in passing constitutional convention measure
AUSTIN — The Texas House of Representatives on May 4 approved Senate Joint Resolution 2, a measure calling for a convention of the states, as contemplated and enabled by Article V of the U.S. Constitution.
The state Senate on Feb. 28 originally passed SJR 2, authored by Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury. Every member of the House and Senate who signed as a co-author or co-sponsor of SJR 2 is Republican, and no Democrat voted in favor of the resolution.
Last week, after the House approved an amended version of the joint resolution, Governor Greg Abbott said: “Today marks an important step toward restraining a runaway federal government and returning power back to the states and their respective citizens as our Founders intended.” In his Jan. 31 State of the State address, Abbott listed passage of such a measure as one of his emergency legislative priorities.
Next, the Senate must accept the House’s version of SJR 2 or call a conference committee to iron out differences. If finally agreed upon, the measure would be forwarded to Vice President Mike Pence, who presides over the U.S. Senate, and to U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan. Should SJR 2 pass here, the Lone Star State would join 10 other states that have done likewise: Alabama, Alaska, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, North Dakota, Oklahoma and Tennessee.
The legislatures of two-thirds of the 50 states — that would be 34 states — must join in the call for a constitutional convention in order to convene under Article V. The stated purpose of convening would be to propose amendments to the U.S. Constitution that would:
- Impose fiscal restraints on the federal government;
- Limit federal government jurisdiction and power; and
- Impose term limits on federal officials and members of Congress.
A model for states to use in their efforts to call an Article V convention is being promoted nationwide by the Arlington, Virginia-based American Legislative Exchange Council. In its publicly posted literature, the organization says: “The federal government has steadily consolidated its power while eroding state control in ways that are clearly inconsistent with the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.”
Other organizations, such as Common Cause and the American Civil Liberties Union and their state affiliates, have registered in opposition to SJR 2 and similar resolutions that have passed or are up for consideration in other state legislatures. One of several concerns the organizations have expressed related to the influence private interests might exert over delegates to a constitutional convention of the states.
Abbott signs Senate Bill 4
Gov. Abbott on May 7 signed legislation banning so-called “sanctuary cities” and prohibiting local law enforcement policies that don’t comply with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainer requests.
SB 4 triggered long and contentious floor debates on April 26 and 27 in the Texas House before passing with only Republican members voting in favor. The Senate concurred with amendments the House made to the bill and the bill was then forwarded to the governor, for his signature.
ICE has the authority to place a detainer on a person who has been arrested on local criminal charges and for whom ICE possesses probable cause to believe that the person is removable from the United States.
Revenue intake increases
Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar on May 2 reported state sales tax revenue totaled $2.44 billion in April, an amount 2.5 percent more than in April 2016.
Total sales tax revenue for the three months ending in April 2017 was up by 3.3 percent compared with the same period a year ago, Hegar added.
Modest growth in state sales tax revenue reflects increased business spending in some sectors, Hegar said. “While net collections from oil and gas companies remain depressed, receipts from the manufacturing and wholesale trade sectors were up markedly. The results of consumer spending appear mixed, with increased tax collections from restaurants but a slight decrease in retail trade,” he added.
Sales tax revenue is the largest source of state funding for the state budget, accounting for 58 percent of all tax collections in fiscal 2016.
Abbott proclaims disaster
Gov. Abbott on May 1 declared a state of disaster exists in East Texas counties of Henderson, Rains and Van Zandt after severe thunderstorms spawning tornadoes swept through the area about 70 miles east of Dallas on April 29.
Nine tornadoes were reported, and at least four deaths were attributed to the weather system. Many homes and businesses were destroyed, and infrastructure was damaged. Abbott authorized the use of all available resources of state government and political subdivisions to cope with the disaster.
Officials seek Zika help
Gov. Abbott and Texas Department of State Health Services Commissioner John Hellerstedt on May 4 sent a joint letter to mayors and county judges across the state, asking local officials for more support in preventing the spread of the mosquito-borne Zika virus. With seasonal temperatures increasing, Abbott and Hellerstedt asked mayors and county judges to accelerate mosquito abatement efforts and to increase public outreach.