- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 3, 2017

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - Texas legislators who support a convention of states to rewrite the U.S. Constitution are at odds over whether to jail delegates who “go rogue” and impose unwanted changes at the longshot gathering.

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott wants to bypass Congress and limit Washington’s power via a federal balanced budget amendment and term limits. But some top conservatives fear a “runaway convention” where representatives from liberal area could target things like the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms.

After hours of sometimes outlandish debate in February, the Texas Senate agreed to make it a felony punishable by up to two years in jail for convention attendees to support “unauthorized” constitutional modifications, or any change not previously agreed to by the Legislature. Supporters argued that the Constitution is “almost a sacred document” and said that mandating harsh punishment was the only way to safeguard against a “runaway” convention.

On Wednesday, though, the state House offered no debate and took mere seconds to preliminarily approve delegate requirements that wiped out the possibility of jail time for anyone daring to deviate from the convention of states’ previously agreed-upon agenda.

“I was surprised there wasn’t more intra-party scuffling on the other side,” said Rep. Chris Turner, a Democrat from Grand Prairie in suburban Dallas who opposes a convention of states.

More fireworks could come Thursday, when the House votes to formally have Texas endorse the convention. But the change on how to punish delegates could ultimately derail the larger call since what gets approved in the House will have to be reconciled with what came out of the Senate.

If the country’s largest Republican state fails to endorse the idea, it would defy Abbott, who made it an “emergency item” to call for the convention states. It also would lengthen the already seemingly long odds of convening such a gathering.

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FEMALE GENITAL MUTILATION

The Texas Senate has unanimously approved harsher penalties for female genital mutilation in the country’s second-largest state.

The practice is already prohibited by federal and Texas law. Approved 31-0 on Wednesday, a new bill makes it illegal to facilitate the transportation of girls undergoing genital mutilation.

It also eliminates consent and custom as a defense to prosecution.

Republican Sen. Jane Nelson is sponsoring the bill with the other seven women state senators from both parties. It got special permission to be filed after the deadline but sped through the Senate and now heads to the Texas House.

Genital mutilation, also known as female circumcision or cutting, is common for girls in parts of Asia, Africa and the Middle East. It also was the subject of recent, high-profile cases in Michigan.

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SCHOOL ACCOUNTABILTY

The Texas House has approved an overhaul of an academic accountability rating system that issues schools and school districts A-to-F letter grades.

The grading scale only passed last session and hasn’t even been fully implemented, but has been criticized by teachers and some groups that promoted it originally.

The system grades schools on five categories and relies heavily on student performance on state-mandated standardized tests. Houston Republican Rep. Dan Huberty’s bill with many co-sponsors cuts the graded categories to three while focusing on student achievement beyond standardized tests.

It passed Wednesday via simple voice vote, and needs just a final, largely procedural vote Thursday to go to the Senate.

Top Republicans say grades are easy for parents to understand, but opponents worry that F-rated school stigmatize their students.

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TEACHING CIVICS

The Texas House has approved scrapping the state’s U.S. history exam required to graduate high school and replacing it with a civics test similar to the naturalization exam.

Since 2015, more than a dozen states have required high school social studies curriculum to include material covered by the 100 questions people take to become U.S. citizens. Lessons focus more on items like the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

But the stakes are higher in Texas, where the history test is one of five that students pass to earn a diploma. The proposal would swap it for one similar to the citizenship test, while not otherwise alerting history curriculums.

The bill passed via voice vote Wednesday, and needs only a final, largely formulaic vote to go to the state Senate.

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ROMO REVERED

The Texas Legislature is honoring retired Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, praising his character and humble roots almost as much as his football accomplishments.

Romo appeared Wednesday before the Texas House, which halted work so lawmakers could take photos with him. Romo was also appearing before the state Senate.

State Rep. Richard Raymond, a Laredo Democrat, wore a Romo jersey and state Rep. Jeff Leach, a Plano Republican, donned a Cowboys helmet.

Romo recently retired to become a CBS game analyst, and Raymond says he thinks Romo will be better TV commentator than any ex-player - even fellow ex-Cowboy quarterback Troy Aikman.

Romo was born in California, grew up in Wisconsin and played college football in Illinois. He played for the Cowboys from 2003 to 2016.

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ON DECK

The House is expected to return to work at 10 a.m. Thursday and will mull Texas’ formal call for a “convention of states” to amend the U.S. Constitution. The Senate should go back into session at 11 a.m.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY

“We don’t want walking while brown to become reasonable suspicion” - Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, as the Senate debated approving sweeping anti-sanctuary cities legislation late Wednesday - which would send it to the governor to be signed into law.

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