MONTGOMERY, Al. — Three Alabama state legislators will form the Yellowhammer State’s delegation to a simulated Convention of States designed to highlight needed amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
State Sens. Clay Scofield (R – Guntersville) and Greg Albritton (R – Bay Minette) and State Rep. Jack Williams (R-Vestavia) will join lawmakers from around the country in performing a test run of an actual Article V convention called to consider amendments to “impose fiscal restraints on the federal government, limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government, and set term limits for its officials and for Members of Congress.”
Proposed constitutional amendments affecting issues like federal term limits, a balanced budget requirement, and limits on executive orders and rule making are among those that delegates will debate, discuss, and consider.
“The only way to rein in the ever-encroaching federal government is by adding constitutional amendments that limit its power and set strict boundary lines that officials cannot cross,” said Rep. Williams. “The most used and best known manner to amend the U.S. Constitution is for the Congress to initiate the process, but its members have proven unwilling or unable to take the necessary first steps.
“But Article V outlines that our Constitution may also be amended by having representatives from the individual states gather in convention and propose the needed changes. Our Alabama delegation will participate in a simulated convention designed to demonstrate exactly how that process would work.”
The event is being sponsored by Citizens for Self-Governance.
The idea of a Convention of States gained steam in 2013 after conservative talk show host Mark Levin advocated for a states-led convention in his book The Liberty Amendments: Restoring the American Republic.
Article V of the U.S. Constitution says that a convention of the states can be convened if two-thirds of the state legislatures (34) approve an application for the convention to occur.
By design, that’s a high bar to clear. And the bar gets even higher when it comes to actually passing a constitutional amendment.
Each state would then choose delegates to represent them at the convention, but each state would only get one vote on proposed amendments. It takes an affirmative vote from three-fourths (38) of the states to actually amend the constitution.
In short, the convention of the states is widely viewed as a last-ditch effort to push back against an overreaching federal government. 27 states have so far passed resolutions calling for a convention to pass a federal balanced budget amendment.
The Alabama Legislature passed a resolution in 2015 strictly limiting the purpose of a proposed convention to three areas:
1) Imposing fiscal restraints on the federal government through a balanced budget amendment;
2) limiting the power and jurisdiction of the federal government; and
3) implementing term limits on federal elected officials.
Members of the Alabama House and Senate who supported the effort say it was necessary because “the federal government has created a crushing national debt” and “invaded the legitimate roles of the states through the manipulative power of federal mandates.”
A resolution proposed by State Sen. Gerald Allen (R-Tuscaloosa) earlier this year was even more narrowly defined. It would limit the convention to only addressing the question of a balanced budget amendment.
“Even if we don’t get enough states behind it, we’ll send a clear message to Congress,” Allen told the Anniston Star. “Get your house in order.”
The possibility of a “runaway convention” is the most often cited concern with convening such a meeting of the states.
“In the course of our work advising state and federal lawmakers and conservative allies across the country, we have been giving this issue close attention and study,” said Dr. Matthew Spalding of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. “The lack of precedent, extensive unknowns, and considerable risks of an Article V amendments convention should bring sober pause to advocates of legitimate constitutional reform contemplating this avenue.”
But Rep. Ken Johnson (R-Moulton), who has sponsored a resolution calling for a Convention of States during the last couple of legislative sessions, said those concerns are overblown.
“Because we’ve never done it, the idea that there could be a ‘runaway convention’ is always brought up as a concern,” Johnson told Yellowhammer last year. “The convention would be limited to a small set of issues. But on top of that, the safeguard is that it only takes 13 states to kill any runaway convention. If there aren’t 13 conservatives states left, we’re in trouble, period. And Washington is a runaway train right now anyway. How much more damage could be done?”
Alabama’s two Senate Budget Chairmen have also been actively involved in the rule-making process for a possible convention. Sen. Trip Pittman (R-Montrose) and Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) traveled to Mt. Vernon, Virginia to discuss the ground rules of a potential convention.
“We discussed the reality that the biggest threat to America is an irresponsible Federal Government,” said Pittman. “Checks that need to be put on the Federal Government have not been accomplished and based on current activity appear not to be likely… 32 (states) participated in the Mount Vernon Assembly, to prepare rules and form committees within a strict framework… to discuss and build support for a possible amendment convention of the States.”
Sen. Allen’s latest bill called for a 24-hour, one-issue convention to convene in Dallas, Texas, the Wednesday after Congress receives the petition from the required number of states.