Alabama lawmakers laying groundwork for U.S. constitutional convention
by Tim Lockette
Jan 20, 2014 | 3919 views |  0 comments | 31 31 recommendations | email to a friend | print
MONTGOMERY --- Republicans in Alabama's state legislature are laying the groundwork for the state’s participation in a convention to add amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

That is, assuming such a convention happens.

"If there is an amendment convention, we want to set up the framework so the state can call delegates," said Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Daphne.

Pittman and Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, traveled to Virginia last month to meet with a group of state lawmakers who support the idea of a national Constitutional convention.

Typically, Constitutional amendments require approval by two-thirds of both Houses of Congress, and ratification of three-fourths of the states, to be added to the U.S. Constitution.

Article V of the Constitution also allows states to call a national convention to propose amendments, if two-thirds of the states request such a convention.

That's never been done before. But over the last year, the idea has picked up steam in conservative circles, inspired in part by a book by conservative talk show host Mark Levin. Titled "The Liberty Amendments," Levin’s book outlines 10 amendments the talk show host hopes to add to the country's founding document, which so far has been amended only 27 times.

Pittman said he's interested right now in only one amendment — one that would require the federal government to balance its budget.

"I think it's important that we require some fiscal responsibility," Pittman said.

Alabama may already be on board with the effort to get that balanced budget amendment. In 2011, the Legislature quietly passed a resolution calling on Congress to pass a balanced budget amendment. Deep in the resolution was a provision stating that if a balanced budget amendment didn’t pass by the end of 2011, “the Alabama Legislature hereby makes application to the United States Congress to call a convention under Article V.”

Pittman isn't sure how many other states have passed similar resolutions. Under Article V, it would take requests from 34 states to launch a nationwide convention, he said.

Pittman and Orr plan to hold a press conference Tuesday to promote a pair of bills that would give the Legislature the power to appoint six delegates to a constitutional convention if one is called, and to allow Gov. Robert Bentley to call a special session to appoint those delegates if need be.

Democrats say it's an election-year stunt.

"It's just political rhetoric," said House Minority Leader Craig Ford, D-Gadsden. "They need to start worrying about what's going on in Alabama instead of what's going on in Washington, D. C."

Pittman said he's serious. A convention of the states is one way the states can rein in spending if the federal government won't, he said. He said it's important to establish rules for a convention now to keep the convention process from getting out of control, with delegates producing multiple amendments.

"One of the concerns is the threat of a runaway convention," he said.

There's already a second pro-convention resolution in the works in the Alabama Legislature. Rep. Ken Johnson, R-Moulton, introduced a resolution last week calling for a constitutional convention "limited to proposing amendments that impose fiscal restraints on the federal government, limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government and limit the terms of office for its officials."

A group called Convention of States, one of the main proponents of an Article V convention, lists on its website eight examples of amendments that could be discussed in a convention. They include amendments to limit the terms of the Supreme Court and amendments to redefine the Commerce Clause and General Welfare Clause of the Constitution. The group's website says it was created by the group Citizens for Self-Governance, led by former Tea Party Patriots director Mark Meckler.

Asked who convened the assembly in Virginia last month, Pittman said it was called by lawmakers in various states.

Pittman said he's not in favor of a constitutional convention to rewrite the 376,000-word Alabama Constitution of 1901, which has been amended nearly 900 times. Efforts to significantly rewrite the document -- which still includes unenforceable provisions for segregated schools and a poll tax -- have so far yielded little change.

Lawmakers in 2011 appointed a Constitutional Revision Commission to review the document article by article and propose changes. Most of their recommendations have not yet come before the Legislature.

"I've been a big proponent of the amendment process that came out of this legislature," Pittman said of the Revision Commission.

In 2012, voters approved two Constitutional-reform amendments that removed antiquated wording about railroads and telegraphs from Alabama’s governing document. But voters rejected an amendment that would strike now-unenforceable wording that authorized school segregation and a poll tax.

Earlier the same year, voters approved an amendment to take $437 million out of a state trust fund to fill a gap in the state budget.

Capitol & statewide correspondent Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.

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