The Georgia House of Representatives made history on Thursday, Feb. 20, by passing several resolutions calling for a convention that would propose amendments to the U.S. Constitution. While some have referred to such a meeting as a “constitutional convention,” a convention called under Article V of the Constitution is more properly an “amendment convention.” It does not meet for the purpose of writing an entire constitution, but to draft amendments that would then be submitted to the states for ratification.
Article V, as drafted by our nation’s founders, provides two ways for the Constitution to be amended:
- Congress may propose amendments by a two-thirds vote of both the House and the Senate.
- The other way, is by a convention that is convened when two-thirds of the states have notified Congress that they desire to have a convention to propose amendments.
The second method has never been used, but it has been proposed by state legislatures several hundred times in our history. In fact, such a convention was close to being called when the U.S. Senate joined the House in 1912 and proposed the 17th Amendment, which provided for the direct election of U.S. senators. For a convention to be called today, resolutions calling for a convention for the same purpose must be passed by legislatures in 34 states.
Senate Bill 206
SB 206 provides a process for appointing delegates if an Article V convention is convened. SB 206, the Delegate Limitation Act, passed the Senate in 2013, but the House failed to pass the bill last session. The bill empowers the governor, lieutenant governor and speaker of the House to appoint two delegates each if an amendment convention is called. A seventh delegate would be chosen by mutual agreement of the other six delegates.
A key provision in the bill prohibits delegates from voting to allow consideration of amendments that are not authorized by the Georgia General Assembly. If delegates do support an unauthorized amendment, the bill allows the three officials who appointed the delegates to recall them. They also face legal penalties. Furthermore, each delegate is required to take an oath to not allow consideration of unauthorized proposed amendments. This provision seeks to prevent what some have argued might become a “runaway convention.”
SB 206 passed the House by a vote of 102-68. It now goes to the governor for his signature.
Senate Resolution 371
SR 371 also passed the Georgia Senate last year and was not considered by the House until this session. This resolution calls for Congress to call a convention for the purpose of proposing a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution: "that in the absence of a national emergency the total of all federal appropriations made by the Congress for any fiscal year may not exceed the total of all estimated federal revenues for that fiscal year.”
SR 371 passed the House 108-63 and also goes to Gov. Nathan Deal for his signature. If he signs the measure, Georgia will become the 21st state to call for a convention to proposed a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution.
House Resolution 1215
After passing these two measures, the House took up a proposal to call a convention with a broader approach to proposing amendments. Senate Resolution 736 passed the Senate on Feb. 4, by a vote of 37-16. House Resolution 1215 is the nearly identical House proposal. The Senate resolution adds an additional paragraph to clarify the process of communicating the wishes of Georgia to other states. Otherwise, the two resolutions are the same. The Convention of States resolution proposes an amendment convention that is limited not to a single amendment, but to three specific subjects:
- To impose fiscal restraints on the federal government (which could include a balanced budget amendment).
- To limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government.
- To limit the terms of office for federal officials and members of Congress.
As with the balanced budget amendment convention, this convention would still be limited, but to the three subjects, not a single amendment. This would allow for not only a balanced budget amendment, but perhaps an amendment to reform our tax system or cap federal spending. Limiting the power and jurisdiction of the federal government could involve an amendment that would reign in the excesses of the executive branch, by limiting the authority of the president to issue executive orders, for instance, or the power of agencies to make harmful and intrusive rules with no input from Congress. And term limits could be considered for members of Congress, as well as the federal judges, including Supreme Court justices.
As with the other convention measures, HR 1215 passed by a comfortable margin of 100-65. Now the House and the Senate will need to decide which bill will be used as the final version and take one more vote. With this final vote, Georgia may well become the first state in the nation to approve a Convention of States resolution.
Convention of States idea moving in other states
The Convention of States resolution is being promoted by an organization called the Convention of States Project.
The group’s website explains the nature and purpose of this effort:
“The Convention of States (COS) Project was founded by Citizens for Self Governance for the purpose of stopping the runaway power of the federal government. We believe Washington, D.C., is broken and will not fix itself. The federal government is spending this country into the ground, seizing power from the states and taking liberty from the people.”
The Georgia General Assembly obviously agrees with this view. Legislators realize that with a gridlocked Congress, great matters of public concern are not being address. It is time for the states to act, and an Article V amendment convention is the remedy provided by our founders.
The Convention of States concept is an improvement over the balanced budget amendment approach, which could consider only a single constitutional amendment. A convention of states is authorized to propose amendments to impose fiscal restraints, rein in the power of the federal government and impose term limits. This could help to right our ship of state at a very critical time in our history.
The Convention of States Project is organized nationwide and resolutions are moving through a number of state legislatures.