- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 28, 2017

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - The Texas Senate on Tuesday approved a call for a convention to amend the U.S. Constitution to limit federal power via checks such as a balanced budget rule and term limits - a call which the state’s top Republicans continue to support despite their party now controlling the White House and Congress.

Under Article V of the Constitution, adding an amendment requires a two-thirds congressional vote and then ratification by three-fourths of states, or 38. That brought the country all 27 constitutional amendments.

Because it’s hard to imagine Congress making itself less powerful, a second option is two-thirds of the states, or 34, requesting a national convention to draft amendments. Any amendments would subsequently have to be ratified by at least 38 states.

America hasn’t convened a constitutional convention since 1787 - one reason why, supporters say, every state except Vermont mandates a balanced budget but Congress doesn’t.

“My party controls the Congress but the Congress does not have my trust,” said Republican Sen. Brian Birdwell of Granbury, who added that the effort shouldn’t be derailed just because Donald Trump won the last presidential election. “I believe, over the last several decades, that the federal government has treated the states as nothing more than a subcontractor to federal will.”

The package of bills will soon head to the Texas House. Last session, lawmakers there approved convening a constitutional convention, but the proposal died in the Senate. Opponents worry that such a gathering could see delegates ignore stated goals and impose wholesale constitutional rewrites.

“I just think it’s very unpredictable,” said Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, a McAllen Democrat.

The Texas Democratic Party released a statement dismissing Tuesday’s hours-long debate as a waste of time. But Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has become one of the nation’s most-vocal advocates for a convention, championing nine specific reforms, including a federal balanced budget amendment and congressional term limits. He made it a centerpiece of his book last year and fast-tracked it through the Legislature this session.

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ABORTION HEALTH INSURANCE LIMITS

An effort to prohibit coverage of abortion by many health insurance plans in Texas is back, despite stalling in previous years.

Republican Sen. Larry Taylor of Friendswood is seeking to bar health insurance plans offered through the Obama administration’s signature health care law from covering the cost of abortions. Exceptions are if policyholders purchase supplemental coverage, or in the case of medical emergencies.

A Senate committee heard the bill Tuesday, and it is expected to draw widespread support in the Republican-controlled Legislature. A similar effort failed to become law last session, though.

Texas is behind other conservative states on the issue.

The Guttmacher Institute, a research group supporting abortion rights, says 25 states already restrict abortion coverage in plans purchased through health insurance exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act.

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ON DECK

The House heads into session at 10 a.m. and is set to pass its first bills Wednesday when it takes up debate on a pair of measures to overhaul the state’s foster care system. The Senate begins a floor session an hour later and is expected to pass its own foster care overhaul bill.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY

“Our nation is succumbing to the caprice of man that our founders fought to escape and I am encouraged that the Texas Senate has taken the first step in joining other states from around the county in reversing that trend,” -Gov. Greg Abbott, reacting to the Senate’s passage of a call for a convention to amend the U.S. Constitution and limit federal power.

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