At least two resolutions calling for an Article V constitutional convention could be introduced this session, although both are likely to face uphill battles.
Article V of the U.S. Constitution requires Congress, “upon application of the legislatures of two-thirds of the various states,” to call a convention of the states for the purpose of proposing amendments to the Constitution.
If we’re ever going to do what we say we want, which is to limit the size of government, then we need to take the bit in our teeth and get it done.
Rep. Tom Loertscher
Sen. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, plans to introduce legislation proposing an Article V convention for the sole purpose of considering a balanced budget constitutional amendment.
House State Affairs Chairman Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, wants to go a little further. He’s looking at an Article V resolution that would allow amendments dealing with budget restraints, congressional term limits, and restrictions on federal executive and legislative powers.
“Wouldn’t it be a shame to convene a convention and not be able to talk about all of these issues, which are interlinked?” Loertscher said.
The Assembly of State Legislatures has 100 lawmakers from 33 states who proposed a set of rules to govern an Article V convention should one ever be called.
If history is any guide, neither of these bills has a clear path forward: Although the Legislature has considered several Article V resolutions in recent years, the last time it supported one was 1999. That’s largely because of concerns about a “runaway convention.”
Article V of the Constitution places no limits on the number or type of amendments that could be considered once a convention is called. Consequently, liberals and conservatives alike always have been leery of relying on Article V for fear that out-of-control delegates will propose wholesale changes to the Constitution.
Those fears have been tempered in recent years by the realization that Congress has been unable or unwilling to address the growing national debt and federal overreach.
“We need to do some things to limit (federal powers) and address the fiscal situation,” Loertscher said. “I’m concerned about the way the Constitution is being ignored.”
Hagedorn also noted that any amendment approved during a convention can only take effect if it’s ratified by three-quarters of the states.
“There are some high hurdles that need to be crossed,” he said.
For the past four years, Hagedorn has been working with the Assembly of State Legislatures, which has a set of rules and procedures to govern an Article V convention.
“The Assembly rules are written for a single-subject convention,” he said.
His resolution is separate from that issue, however. It focuses on the balanced budget amendment because it’s the closest topic to meeting the three-fifths threshold that triggers a convention.
Ken Burgess, an Idaho lobbyist working with the national Balanced Budget Amendment Task Force, said 28 states previously have petitioned Congress for an Article V convention on a balanced budget amendment. Six more states are needed to trigger the call.
“They think they can pick up another four or five states this year, and they want Idaho to be one,” Burgess said.
Loertscher is working with a third organization, the Convention of States, whose goal is to “return the country to its original vision of a limited federal government that is of, by and for the people.”
Together with Reps. James Holtzclaw, R-Meridian, and Eric Redman, R-Athol, Loertscher took part in a simulated Article V convention last fall in Williamsburg, Va.
The three-day event attracted nearly 140 delegates from all 50 states. They eventually proposed several amendments, including a two-thirds vote requirement for Congress to raise the federal debt level and a three-fifths vote to raise taxes or fees.
The group also recommended eliminating the federal income, gift and estate taxes, and proposed a six-term limit for the U.S. House and two-term limit for the Senate.
Other amendments would limit the Interstate Commerce clause, give states the ability to overturn any federal law or regulation if three-fifths of them agree, and require a majority vote to adopt new regulations if 25 percent of the House or Senate object to the proposed rules.
Burgess said the Convention of States approach simply lends credence to the fears about a runaway convention. Consequently, he’s trying to convince lawmakers to support Hagedorn’s one-subject convention resolution.
“If we do a convention for this one thing, we can show it will work,” he said. “Then they can move on to other issues.”
Spence covers the Legislature for The Lewiston Tribune: firstname.lastname@example.org, (208) 791-9168.