Pre-filing for the 88th Legislative Session began on November 14, and Vasut has been busy; he’s filed 30 bills in total, nearly one-third of which are related to amending the constitution.
Vasut’s proposals include:
- House Joint Resolution (HJR) 8 – reducing the legislative quorum requirement from two-thirds to a simple majority
- HJR 10 – reducing the property appraisal increase limit from 110 percent to 103.5 percent
- HJR 32 – requiring the governor to call a special legislative session upon the request of a petition signed by two-thirds of the members of each chamber
- HJR 34 – establishing term limits for non-judicial state offices
- HJR 35 – rescinding an expiration date associated with the 2017 application by Texas for an Article V Convention of States under the U.S. Constitution
- HJR 37 – forbidding state government regulation of private and home schools
- HJR 38 – establishing a list of parental rights in the Texas Constitution
- HJR 39 – eliminating the age limits for judicial office holders
- HJR 46 – rescinding the moratorium on non-emergency legislative floor action during the first 65 days of the regular session
The Texas Constitution is unlike the U.S. Constitution — it’s been amended over 500 times. Its significance for legislators rests in the higher difficulty for repealing an amendment. For example, in 2019, the Legislature and then voters approved an amendment prohibiting the issuance of a state income tax. Functionally, the amendment raised the legislative number necessary to establish an income tax from a simple majority to a two-thirds majority.
It raises the bar of difficulty to pass whatever policy it addresses; Texas Legislators made clear they not only wanted to prevent an income tax, but to make it that much harder for future legislatures to implement one.
Behind most constitutional amendment proposals is that intention: to cement a certain policy as permanently as possible under the constitutional order.
Vasut has an eye toward a number of other purposes with his array of amendments. HJR 8’s is simple, reducing the quorum requirement in the legislature to a simple majority. Last year, House Democrats broke quorum not once but twice to prevent passage of the GOP’s election reform bill. As Republicans will have 85 members in the House next session, they’ll be 15 shy of a GOP-set quorum. Ironically, to pass the amendment would require a two-thirds vote in support — 100 in the House, the same as required for a quorum.
Getting House Democrats to voluntarily reduce the bit of power in numbers they do hold would be a tall task. But due to last session’s quorum breaks, the issue holds more relevance in the last two years than it has since the late 1970s, when the “Killer Bees” broke quorum in the Senate.
Concerning the rules of procedure in the legislature, Vasut’s HJR 46 would strike the constitutional moratorium on floor action, the first 30 days reserved for bill and resolution filing and the next 35 days reserved for committee hearings.
Bills matching the governor’s list of emergency items may be filed, considered in committee, and voted on at any point of the session.
The 65-day restricted period is a vestige of the 1800s to allow lawmakers time to reach Austin during an era without airplanes.
Currently, it effectively reduces the session to pass bills on the floor from 140 days to just 75.
During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, many legislators called upon Gov. Greg Abbott to convene a special session to provide say in health policy decisions at that point being made by the executive branch. Only the governor may convene a special session of the Legislature, something Abbott did three times in 2021.
But after all the failed efforts to reform the state’s disaster powers — the code on which the governor leaned to issue his emergency directives — Vasut’s HJR 32 would provide some check on the executive authority.
Upon a petition signed by two-thirds of members from each chamber, the governor would be required to convene a special session under this amendment. Joint resolutions are not sent to the governor for signature, and thus HJR 32 would not need the approval of the official whose power it seeks to limit.
There are no term limits in the State of Texas — the only time-related limitation on serving in office is an age cap for members of the judiciary — and Vasut aims to reverse the status quo on both of those items.
HJR 34 would set a limit of six legislative sessions for legislators. House members serve two-year terms and Senators serve four-year terms. For non-judicial statewide offices — the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, et cetera — the limit would be set at 12 years.
The resolution’s language indicates that a one-session break would restart the eligibility clock.
Judges in Texas must retire at the expiration of a term during which they turn 75. Vasut’s HJR 39 would eliminate that mandate.
Vasut also filed three policy-focused proposals. Currently, the year-to-year taxable value of homesteads by appraisal districts is capped at 10 percent. Vasut’s HJR 10 would reduce that to 3.5 percent — in line with the 2019 Legislature’s cap set on property tax increases by cities and counties.
On the education front, his HJR 37 would prohibit the state from regulating private schools and homeschooling families and entities. His HJR 38 would set the state code’s parental rights into the constitution, reading, “The liberty of a parent to direct the upbringing of the parent’s child is a fundamental right. This right includes the right to direct the care, custody, control, education, moral and religious training, and medical care of the child.”
Abbott has stated his intention to place a “Parental Bill of Rights” into the Texas Constitution, and the pair of amendments by Vasut dovetail comfortably into the school choice fight that is likely to feature during the 2023 legislative session.
His last remaining proposal, HJR 35, would strike a portion of Senate Joint Resolution (SJR) 38 from 2017. SJR 38 approved the Convention of States resolution — a mechanism for amending the constitution through state legislatures, bypassing Congress — but set forth an eight-year deadline.
Vasut’s proposal keeps the call for a convention but eliminates the expiration. The U.S. Constitution has been amended 27 times but never through a Convention of States.
Thus far, 52 HJRs have been filed, nine of them from Vasut, along with 18 SJRs. During the 87th Regular Session, only four in each chamber passed.
The 88th Legislative Session convenes on January 10, 2023.
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Brad Johnson is a senior reporter for The Texan and an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.