By John Celock
The Kansas House of Representatives gave preliminary approval to a resolution calling for a U.S. constitutional convention, but fell seven votes shorts of what is needed for final passage.
The House voted 77-44 Thursday following intense debate on the role of the federal government for a constitutional convention called by the states under Article V of the U.S. Constitution, but 84 votes is needed for final passage by the full House. An Article V convention – never called in American history – has been called for by Republicans and Democrats for various reasons. The Kansas resolution focused on what is said to be a federal government that is restricting individual liberty.
‘I believe as did our founding fathers that answers and ingenuity lay with our people,” Rep. Brett Hildabrand (R-Shawnee), a leading proponent of the issue, told the House Thursday.
Hildabrand pointed to what he said is a federal government that has focused on issues outside of its powers under the Constitution. He pointed to a reliance of the federal government on issuing new regulations, rather than legislation and said that a convention would allow states to address this. Hildabrand noted in his speech that federal regulations relating to cabbage total more than 26,000 words, while the Gettysburg Address was 286 words long.
Hildabrand focused on what he said is tyranny, noting that the federal actions in the area of the regulatory code can fall into this area. He said that the Constitution put the Article V convention language in place to allow the states to have a check on federal powers. Several supporters of the resolution joined Hildabrand in noting what they say is overreach by the federal government.
Opponents though took issue with Hildabrand’s use of the word “tyranny.”
“If you look up tyranny in the dictionary you won’t see anything about cabbage regulation,” Rep. Boog Highberger (D-Lawrence) said. “If you ask someone fleeing tyranny in another country, they won’t be talking about cabbage regulation.”
Article V of the Constitution allows for constitutional amendments to either be proposed by Congress or a convention called by two-thirds of the states with approval by three-fourths of the states through the ratification process. A convention has not been called in American history, with all constitutional amendments coming through the congressional initiated process.
States have made proposals to Congress for the convention over the years, but Congress has said the requisite number has not been achieved since they were not all in the same form. In recent years, calls have increased for an Article V convention, with Republicans centering on federal powers and a balanced budget amendment, while Democrats have centered in on campaign finance reform.
Opponents of an Article V convention have said that such a convention could become a “runaway convention” and propose a series of amendments that restrict individual rights, a topic brought up in Thursday’s debate in Kansas.
“A lot of Kansans believe in the Founding Fathers and quote the Founding Fathers a lot on this floor,” Rep. Annie Tietze (D-Topeka) said. “This group potentially can erase that and start over.”
Hildabrand and his allies said that it unlikely to happen because of the ratification process.
“We would never restrict those types of rights for people,” Federal and State Affairs Committee Chairwoman Jan Pauls (R-Hutchinson) said. “The majority of the states will not do that in a convention. If for some bizarre reason that were occur we can stop that.”
Rep. John Carmichael (D-Wichita) questioned Hildabrand about a convention putting in place amendments to restrict or eliminate the Affordable Care Act, Medicare and Social Security. Hildabrand said that he does not see a convention adopting such amendments and believes that the states would not ratify those amendments.
“I’d imagine you’d have rioting in the streets of the state capitals of any state where the state legislature adopted that,” Hildabrand said.
Parts of the debate centered on process related issues with lawmakers questioning how delegates to such a convention would be selected and how voting would occur. A bill is pending in the Kansas Senate outlining a delegate selection process for the state. The convention would have one vote per state delegation.
Thursday’s vote was done with the House acting as the Committee of the Whole, which required only a simple majority of the House to advance the bill. Final action on the proposal – likely to come Monday – will require a super majority of 84 votes since it involves calling a U.S. constitutional convention.
While opponents focused on potential amendments and delegate selection and Tietze noted that she did not want to spend taxpayers funds on this, supporters said that they wanted to see a check put in place.
“I think the United States and the states on the balance of power have been out of balance for the last 70 to 80 years,” Rep. Charles Macheers (R-Shawnee) said. “Before the Great Depression most of the activity happened at the state level. During the New Deal things changed and they had a radical reinterpretation of how the commerce clause works.”