By John Celock
A group of Kansas lawmakers are pushing for the state to join 33 others in calling for an Article V convention to amend the U.S. Constitution.
Legislation calling for the convention has passed out of the state House Federal and State Affairs Committee and is pending before the full House. The bill is part of a growing national movement for a state called convention, which would be a first in American history. Article V of the U.S. Constitution gives two-thirds of the states the ability to call for such a convention, with any amendments being subject to ratification by three-quarters of the states. The Article V convention movement has grown in recent years, receiving bipartisan support among state legislators, who argue that states need to place a check on the federal government, while opponents express fear of a “runaway convention” that could completely overhaul the constitution.
“I believe that most people don’t know about. When I was coming up through school Article V was something we looked at but it was skipped over,” Rep. Kevin Jones (R-Wellsville) told The Celock Report. “I didn’t know that Article V was an opportunity until it was talked about. Every state, anybody who believes in state sovereignty or believes strongly in their own state, should see it as a viable option or having a say at a national level. We are the United States and each state should have a voice. When the federal government has so much power much to depriving state’s of sovereignty.”
The Article V debate nationally has taken several forms with multiple groups pressing the state called convention over the past several years. The Convention of States organization, which is pressing for convention to consider a balanced budget amendment, term limits for elected and appointed officials and limiting the size and scope of the federal government, currently has legislation calling for a convention pending in over 30 states nationally with three – Georgia, Florida and Alaska – having passed the COS version. Other states have passed other versions of the resolution, including New Jersey, which in February passed a version that called for an Article V convention focused on overturning the Citizens United measure.
While over two-thirds of the states historically have called for an Article V convention, Congress has never authorized it, saying that the resolutions were not in the same form. Constitutional amendments have only come through a process of being proposed through Congress and then ratified by three-quarters of the states.
The Article V movement, though, has become more bipartisan in nature. In December, a bipartisan group of lawmakers, known as the Assembly of State Legislatures met in Washington, D.C. to organize for a convention. The group focused on two main issues, a balanced budget amendment and campaign finance reform, agreed on to unite both Republican and Democratic members of the group. ASL – which included Jones – grew out of a December 2013 conference at Mount Vernon on the topic.
The Convention of States backers in Kansas say the resolution can easily address what they say is federal overreach and the national debt. Rep. Kristey Williams (R-Augusta), a co-sponsor of the Kansas resolution, told The Celock Report that it is an “impossibility” to address the national debt and the role of the federal government without such a convention.
“Ultimately, the bottom line is that our nation is on an unsustainable path of growth and spending.” Williams said. “I care far too much about our nation and our children to sit idly by when a vehicle for change, Article V, is available to us.”
Rep. Pete DeGraaf (R-Malverne), another co-sponsor, told The Celock Report, that he sees the balanced budget issue as one that is bipartisan. He also said the plan as giving smaller states a bigger role in the national debate than they currently do.
“The real benefit for Kansas is we’re on equal footing with California and Texas,” he said. “Instead of having six votes out of 535 in Congress, all of a sudden we have equal footing.”
Many opponents of the Article V convention plan have argued that such a convention could become a “runaway convention” and move on to areas that were not the intent of those calling the convention. Under Article V, amendments drafted by the convention would have to be ratified by three-quarters of the states, the similar process used to ratify amendments proposed by Congress.
Jones said he has heard the arguments against the plan and sees the states being able to block amendments during the ratification process.
“A lot of people don’t want this to have a chance to succeed because they feel you can those your Second or Tenth Amendment rights,” he said. “I fell there are safeguards in place that we would not lose our Second Amendment rights.”
Jones noted that since state legislatures would appoint delegates to a convention, they could exercise control over their actions.
“If a representative goes off the deep end, the state can pull them,” Jones said. “There are so many safeguards in place that there can’t be a runaway convention.”
Rep. Mike Houser (R-Columbus) is one opponent of the Article V movement in Kansas. Houser told The Celock Report that one of his main concerns is that a convention would not be populated just by delegates that had the same beliefs as the Kansas delegation. He said that other states’ delegates would come to the convention pushing different agendas and it is possible that those agendas would be adopted and not the Kansas one.
Houser said he agrees with the need to address a balanced budget and the role of the federal government but not from the convention point of view. He questioned if a balanced budget could be achieved federally, along with the federal government’s role. He said he wants increased state level enforcement of the federal role.
“We are getting out of whack and we need to enforce what we have and not write something new,” House said.
Houser said he would like to see the states focus more on nullifying federal laws. He said that as a supporter of states’ rights he wants to state governments stand up to federal regulations, citing a 2013 Kansas law that seeks to nullify federal gun laws in the state on guns that are manufactured and never leave the state. The U.S. Department of Justice has threatened to sue Kansas over the gun law and constitutional law professors have questioned whether the state can nullify a federal law a product of interstate commerce.
Houser said states could simply agree not help the federal government enforce federal provisions to reign in the government. He cited new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rules over the lesser prairie chicken, which has been opposed by many Kansas Republicans as one area.
“That is our power as a state and we have to exercise it,” House said. “We have to remember who created who. The federal government did not create the states, the states created the federal government.”
Rep. Brett Hildabrand (R-Shawnee), who co-sponsored the gun nullification bill and has been active in the Article V convention movement, said that he sees the convention giving states a voice. He also said that opponents of the measure should look at the two methods for pushing such an amendment.
“We’ve put faith in the model that originates with the federal government but not with the one that originates with the states,” Hildabrand told The Celock Report. “I think we should put our faith with the states in a grassroots solution and not what is the source of the problem, the federal government.”
This article was updated to say that Brett Hildabrand was a co-sponsor of the Second Amendment Protection Act and not the author of the legislation.