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How the GOP Wave Could Boost Chances for a Constitutional Convention of the States


"I don’t fear a convention will get out of hand as much as I fear a runaway government."

Utah State Legislature

The 2014 Republican tide might lift the movement for a convention of states to amend the Constitution, advocates said.

Republicans now control 69 state legislative chambers across the country, surpassing the party’s record of state Houses and Senates the GOP controlled in 1920, picking up of nine chambers this year. The party controls both the House and Senate in 30 states.

FILE - In this Jan. 27, 2014, file photo, shows the Utah House of Representatives meeting on the floor, at the Utah State Capitol, in Salt Lake City. Utah lawmakers are considering adding a few weeks to their annual 45-day session to allow more time for debate and careful reading of bills. The state constitution stipulates that lawmakers meet for 45 calendar days each year, among the shortest legislative sessions in the country. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File) In this Jan. 27, 2014, file photo, shows the Utah House of Representatives meeting on the floor, at the Utah State Capitol, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

Tennessee and Louisiana passed resolutions calling for a Convention of the States in the 2014 legislative sessions to approve a federal balanced budget amendment, bringing the tally to 24 states, according to the State Government Leadership Foundation, a conservative group advocating for a convention. Some of those resolutions stretch back to the 1980s.

That's within 10 of the magic 34 states needed to reach the two-thirds of state legislatures to call a state convention under Article 5 of the U.S. Constitution. If a convention approves an amendment, three-fourths of the states – 38 – must vote to ratify it. This option has never been used for amending the Constitution.

Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell, a Republican, said she heard interest in pushing for a convention of the states when attending a national state House speakers’ conference in September, because state leaders recognize the threat of overspending by the federal government.

“I believe it will give it momentum,” Harwell told TheBlaze of the movement for a convention. “[The debt] is the number one threat to the nation and people know something needs to be done. Momentum is going our way not the other way."

She added that Tennessee lawmakers could assist other states.

“In Tennessee, we’d like to serve as an example to other states, and take questions on the legal issues in learning the process,” Harwell said.

The movement for an Article 5 convention became more popular after the publication of "The Liberty Amendments" by constitutional attorney and talk radio host Mark Levin in 2013. Levin advocated a balanced budget amendment among others constitutional amendments such as term limits in the book.

Some conservatives, however, have warned against a convention, fearing that it would open the door to special interests pushing for various other changes to the Constitution.

The Vermont state legislature approved a resolution calling for an Article 5 convention to allow restrictions on political campaign fundraising and spending, limits that were struck down by the Supreme Court.

Harwell believes the threat of a runaway convention is far outweighed by threat federal spending.

“I think they are sincere in their concerns,” Harwell said of critics. “But most legislatures have only passed resolutions calling for a convention on the balanced budget amendment. I don’t fear a convention will get out of hand as much as I fear a runaway government. The $17 trillion debt is a much larger threat.”

There are safeguards to prevent a runaway convention, said Micah Ketchel, director of policy and advocacy at the State Government Leadership Foundation.

“There have been literally hundreds of Article 5 applications passed over the years,” Ketchel told TheBlaze. “Even if you have enough states to pass an amendment, it still requires 38 states to ratify the amendment. There is such a firewall, this will not get out of hand.”

In Arizona, South Carolina and Wisconsin, the proposal for a convention on a balanced budget amendment was passed in one house but not the other during the 2014 legislative session. Ketchel anticipates these states will pass a call for the convention though both chambers in 2015. Further, both the Indiana House and Senate passed resolutions calling for a Convention of the States, but the language of the resolutions were not reconciled in 2014.

“There is no question this is going to move the ball in passing legislation in additional states,” Ketchel said. “We saw a lot of progress in the last legislative session."

“This is an area at the state level that legislatures can be federally relevant,” he added. “At the end of the day, this could pressure Congress to take action and do something.”

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