Utah Lawmakers Hope to Inch Closer to Calling for a Constitutional Convention

Written by Bob Bernick on . Posted in Today At Utah Policy

Everyone knows that Congress ain’t doing crap these days. Especially not dealing with illegal immigration or a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

 

Well, Utah’s lawmakers have done about what they can on immigration.

And now a multi-state group of state legislators are moving – oh so carefully – toward calling a constitutional convention, where delegates could proposed a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Utah Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, is a leader in the effort, and was voted the new group’s rules committee co-chairman at a recent in Indiana two week’s ago. Several Utah House members have also attended the meetings, including Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, the Legislature’s unofficial constitutional expert.

The group originally called itself the Mount Vernon Assembly, after George Washington’s former plantation, now national monument, where the group first met last December.

But in the Indiana meeting they changed the name to Assembly of State Legislatures to better reflect what is coming.

Thirty-five states have sent representatives and senators to the meetings so far.

Because of so much fear – much of it irrational – that any constitutional convention could become a “runaway” convention and propose all kinds of crazy stuff, like removing 2ndAmendment gun rights, the Assembly’s work is strictly procedural.

“In Utah we can’t get a real constitutional convention call out of committee,” Niederhauser told UtahPolicy.

Niederhauser doesn’t lay blame, but groups like the Utah Eagle Forum have shown up at legislative committee hearings saying there is real danger of a “runaway” convention.

The Assembly will look to draft model legislation that would outline how such a convention would be organized, said Niederhauser.

The U.S. Constitution, in Article V, is very vague about that.

It’s basic stuff, really, all aimed at trying to clamp down on the black-helicopter worries of the far right.

There have been several attempts in the Utah Legislature, and by former Gov. Mike Leavitt, to deal with states’ rights issues via a constitutional convention.

All have failed.

In the 200-year-plus history of the United States no legislative-called constitutional convention has been called – all amendments to the U.S. Constitution coming through congressional action, with ratification by the states.

In the mid-1990s when Leavitt tried to start a national movement on states’ rights it was the right wing of his own Republican Party that put the kibosh on it.

Leavitt had to promise that he would NEVER favor calling a constitutional convention aimed at retrieving state rights from the federal government, because such a convention couldn’t be trusted.

If fact, it is all a sham argument.

First of all, three-fourths of state legislatures have to call such a convention. And no matter what it passed, three-fourths of state legislatures would then have to approve – without any amendments – the exact same language of any amendment.

Niederhauser said rather than keep fighting the “runaway” convention fears it’s best to have most state legislatures just adopt the same legal rules and procedures that its delegates to any future constitutional convention – no matter what the subject matter – would have to follow.

Niederhauser and his Democratic co-chair, a senator from Missouri, will get their 20-member Assembly Rules Committee together several times over this summer.

It will draw up preliminary rules, which will be discussed and modified by the whole Assembly of State Legislatures in December.

Then in the 2015 legislatures that are participating, resolutions will be passed to appoint formal membership to the Assembly.

Work will progress and in the 2016 legislatures – Utah’s included – final constitutional convention rules and regulations will be passed in each state.

That, then, will set the state for any future legislative-called constitution conventions in America, said Niederhauser.

It’s a long process, but one that is clearly needed to settle “all the paranoia” that is out there, said Niederhauser.

To address, in some part, those fears in Utah, state Rep. Kraig Powell, R-Heber City, sponsored HB392 this year.

That bill passed the 2014 Legislature toward the end of the session.

It says specifically that any constitutional convention delegate from Utah CAN’T vote on any “unauthorized” proposed amendment (that is, any proposal not approved by the Utah Legislature), will remove him from the convention if he does, and even carries criminal penalties if he tries to support such an “unauthorized” change.

The new law “prohibits a Utah delegate to a United States Article V convention from acting in a manner that supports or approves the proposing of an unauthorized amendment or change to the United States Constitution; provides for the removal of a delegate; and provides criminal penalties.”

That’s right, it would be a third degree felony for any future Utah delegate to a constitutional convention to vote for or support any unauthorized amendment.

“Hey, man, what are you doing hard time in D Block for?”

“I’m sentenced to three years for supporting an unauthorized constitutional amendment.”

“Wow! And I thought I was a loser.”



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