A constitutional convention might not be as far fetched as many think

By Melissa Davlin and Seth Ogilvie

 

Idaho may soon join the states that are petitioning for a convention to consider adding a balanced budget amendment to the US Constitution.

Rep. Christy Perry, R-Nampa is sponsoring the concurrent resolution. The balanced budget amendment would require Congress to stay within projected revenues when appropriating money each fiscal year, except during a national emergency.

House Majority Caucus Chairman John Vander Woude, R-Nampa, supports the idea of an amendment to get federal spending under control. “It doesn’t make any difference who’s in control, Republicans or Democrats. They all know that money gets votes,” Vander Woude said. “Nobody seems to want to balance the budget. So we’re thinking, maybe if we had a constitutional convention and an amendment, that would force the federal government to actually run on a balanced budget.”

 

 

Not everyone is fully on board with the idea of a convention.

“My concern is if you look at the power of special interests in politics, what you’ll get…. at a convention of states is special interests deciding what the Constitution should say,” Congressman Raul Labrador told attendees of the Heritage Foundation Conservative Policy Summit on February 3. (You can listen to his full remarks on the issue here.)

That means not only could other amendments be introduced, but existing amendments could be changed.

There are plenty of other proposed additions for the US Constitution, too. Presidential candidate Marco Rubio recently said he supports the idea of adding an amendment on term limits, as well as the balanced budget amendment. 

Vander Woude said the idea is to limit the scope of the convention to just the balanced budget amendment. But some critics say there are no provisions in the Constitution for precluding other amendments from being altered or presented at a convention.

“We’ve talked about that. If we send our delegates down there, they’ll be bound by, they can only vote on one issue,” Vander Woude said. A handful of other states also have similar agreements, he said.

This isn’t the first time Idaho lawmakers have considered petitioning for a convention. In 1990, Dan Chadwick, then-chief of the Idaho Attorney General Office’s Intergovernmental Affairs Division, wrote an opinion in response to two Idaho state senators addressing both the convention and the limitation concerns. 

“If a convention were called on the balanced budget amendment and it was ultimately determined that the convention could not be limited in scope, the concern you expressed in your letter about possible repeal of the Second Amendment (dealing with the right to bear arms) or modifying the “Great compromise” which granted the small states an equal voice in the Senate, could be realized. such a convention could ignore or reject the balanced budget amendment, while proceeding to consider these and other questions for submission to the states,” Chadwick wrote. “Again, with no definitive legal precedent, it is hard to say what might take place.”

Article V of the US Constitution allows for state legislatures to petition for a convention to propose amendments or changes to the Constitution.

Perry’s concurrent resolution calls for a convention to add a balanced budget amendment, which would require Congress to stay within projected revenues when appropriating money each fiscal year, except when a national emergency would require them to spend more.

There are two steps for changing the US Constitution: Crafting the amendment, and ratification.

For step one, Congress can pass the amendment (the most well-known route), or states can call a constitutional convention. For the latter, two thirds (or 34) of the states must petition Congress for a convention to approve the amendment.

Regardless of how the amendment is created, it has to be ratified by three fourths (or 38) of the states. That ratification process could happen through the states’ respective legislatures. Congress could also call on states to form conventions specifically to ratify the amendment — a process that has been used just once, to ratify the Twenty First Amendment, which repealed Prohibition.

But the country is approaching that first hurdle. Twenty seven states have current petitions for an amendment; Just seven more legislatures must pass the petition to reach 34 states. States have petitioned for a balanced budget amendment since the 60s, with some withdrawing their petitions over fear of a so-called “runaway convention.” All of the states’ petitions must call for the same amendment in order for them to count toward the two-thirds goal.

“It would be historical if all 34 states are able to come together to do this,” Perry wrote in an e-mail to Idaho Reports.

The ALEC-connected Balanced Budget Amendment Task Force, a Florida-based non-profit, lists Idaho as one of the seven states it’s “targeting” in 2016, along with Oklahoma, South Carolina, Virginia, Wisconsin, West Virginia and Wyoming. Currently, there are legislative sponsors of the amendment petition in 13 states, according to the BBA Task Force website. 

Helping along the process even more: ALEC also has model legislation for proposing, voting on and ratifying the Balanced Budget Amendment. 

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