The following article was written by Barry Smith and originally published in the Carolina Journal.
Advocates of constitutional amendments to rein in federal powers are optimistic North Carolina soon will join the effort.
The effort surrounds a proposed meeting, called “Article V Convention of the States,” which refers to that part of the U.S. Constitution governing constitutional amendments. The article allows two-thirds of the states’ legislatures to apply to Congress to establish a convention proposing amendments to the Constitution. The two-thirds threshold means at least 34 state legislatures must approve the call for a convention.
So far, eight states — Georgia, Alaska, Florida, Alabama, Tennessee, Indiana, Oklahoma, and Louisiana — have passed bills calling for a convention of the states, said Mike Faulkenberry, state director of the Convention of the States Project.
There’s no deadline to complete the process, so if additional state legislatures authorize the convention, those states will be added to the tally.
“We don’t have to start all over again; we get to pick it up where we left off,” Faulkenberry said. “We’ve developed a lot more and a lot better relationships with a lot of legislators.”
“I’m hoping we’ll have better chances at getting it passed this time,” said Rep. Dennis Riddell, R-Alamance, one of the bill’s sponsors.
The proposal calls for a convention to propose three amendments to the Constitution: one imposing fiscal restraint on the U.S. government; a second limiting the power and jurisdiction of the federal government; and a third calling for term limits for federal officials, including members of Congress.
Faulkenberry said the convention would decide specifics of the proposed amendments. For example, he said, the states aren’t specifying how long congressional term limits would be or whether fiscal restraint would require a balanced budget amendment. Leaving those matters open could preclude legislatures, which may have differing opinions, from getting bogged down in the specifics and delay or prevent the convention, he said.
“We’re all having a little bit of a competition to see which state is the next to pass it,” said Tamara Colbert, a spokeswoman for the national Convention of the States Project. Colbert is also co-director for the state of Texas.
Riddell said supporters of the proposal couldn’t get such a bill out of committee two years ago. “There’s a curiosity or hesitancy by some of our colleagues on what an Article V convention is,” Riddell said.
Some of Riddell’s fellow representatives were concerned such a convention, once convened, may go rogue and stray from the original intent. Riddell said that the bill calling for the convention would be very specific — to limit the power and reach of the federal government.
“I think the biggest thing in its favor is that it’s constitutional,” Riddell said. “This is not an extraconstitutional remedy.”
Riddell said the nation’s founders anticipated a time when the federal government would be insensitive to the needs of the states. They placed the convention of the states option for amending the Constitution as a remedy for such indifference.
The scope of the proposed gathering, Faulkenberry says, would have limits. “Anything outside the scope of these three things could not be considered,” Faulkenberry said. For example, he said an amendment to expand the scope of the federal government could not be considered.
Once such a convention were held and amendments proposed, legislatures in three-fourths of the states — 38 altogether — must ratify the amendments before they become effective.
Riddell and Faulkenberry say requiring three-fourths of the states to ratify any proposed amendments also serves as a check on a runaway convention.
“That’s a very high bar,” Riddell said. He also noted that Republicans have majorities in 33 state legislatures. “This is going to have to be a bipartisan effort to get the 38 states.”
Supporters of calling a convention of the states are planning a rally in Raleigh on Feb. 7.
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