It’s been more than 200 years since there’s been a constitutional convention, but some Republican state lawmakers say the rising national debt makes it high time for the next one.
SCR 1016 would have Arizona become one of 38 states that would have to call for the convention, which would create a constitutional amendment requiring approval from a majority of legislatures from both houses before Congress raises the national debt.
The Senate Border Security, Federalism and State Sovereignty Committee endorsed the measure Thursday on a 4-2 vote, following a long and sometimes heated public hearing.
“We have absolutely destroyed our economy and our ability to function,” said Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake, the committee’s chairwoman. “We are so close to collapsing.
Allen said the proposed amendment is intended to check Congress and, by preventing an increase in the national debt, force members to stick to a balanced budget.
Before casting his vote for the measure, Sen. Frank Antenori, R-Tucson, read the preamble to the Constitution, his voice cracking with emotion. He said a constitutional convention can be a scary proposition – opponents said a convention could result in runaway moves beyond its mandate – but he called this a time for bold action.
“Sometimes you have to take that fear and you have to overcome it to do the right thing,” he said.
Sens. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix, and Gail Griffin, R-Hereford, dissented. Griffin said she needed more information before supporting the measure, and Gallardo didn’t explain his vote.
Nick Dranias, director of the Center for Constitutional Government at the Goldwater Institute, said states have nothing to lose and much to gain by initiating the process leading to a convention.
“The process is not radical, it will not runaway and it can be targeted to fundamental reforms that are needed to protect our country’s future,” he said.
Members of the Tea Party who crowded the hearing room opposed the idea, saying that government officials can’t be trusted to stick to the national debt.
“We’re dinking around with, pardon my French, a document that was created by Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Franklin, etc., etc.,” Chet Kite told lawmakers. “You give me a body of leaders that are the equivalent to that and I might support them.”
Article V of the U.S. Constitution outlines the process for amending the Constitution. Amendments can be proposed if two-thirds of both houses of Congress vote in favor or if two-thirds of the states call for a constitutional convention.
At a constitutional convention, an amendment can be ratified if it’s approved by either three-fourths of the states or three-fourths of the elected delegates at the convention.
Glenn Hughes, chairman and co-founder of RestoringFreedom.org Inc., a Texas-based nonprofit organization dedicated to addressing the federal debt, said fears of a runaway convention are unwarranted.
“To suggest that 38 state legislatures would intentionally do anything to harm the American people is simply ludicrous,” Hughes told the panel. “I can tell you from analyzing historical facts and my personal experience that getting 38 legislatures to agree on anything is a monumental task.”
Hughes said that 10 states have proposed similar legislation and an additional six are considering it.
Thursday’s vote sends the resolution to the floor by way of the Rules Committee. Both houses of the Legislature would have to approve it, but the measure wouldn’t need the governor’s signature.