Kansas House rejects calling for new constitutional convention
TOPEKA — Conservative Republicans in Kansas who believe the federal government is out of control failed Monday to persuade enough fellow legislators that the remedy is calling a convention of the states to propose changes in the U.S. Constitution.
The Kansas House voted 77-47 for a resolution calling for such a convention. But supporters needed a two-thirds majority in the 125-member chamber, or 84 votes, to adopt the measure and send it to the Senate. They fell seven votes short.
The measure, of which Rep. Brett Hildabrand, R-Shawnee, was a lead supporter, said the nation's founders empowered state lawmakers to be "guardians of liberty," decries the federal government's "crushing debt" and declares that it has "ceased to live under a proper interpretation" of the U.S. Constitution. Legislators in five states have passed the same resolution since March 2014, according to the Virginia-based group Convention of States.
But most of the Kansas House's Democrats and GOP moderates and even a few of its conservatives questioned whether a convention's scope could be limited once it convened. Rep. James Todd, a conservative Overland Park Republican, noted that concerns about a "runaway" convention stalled similar efforts in the past.
"I support a balanced budget amendment, but not a convention without further restrictions," Todd said in voting no, specifically mentioning his desire to protect existing constitutional guarantees for free speech, religious freedom and gun rights.
The U.S. Constitution says Congress must call a convention if it gets applications from two-thirds of the states, or 34.
Supporters of the Kansas resolution said any fears of an unbridled convention leading to the loss of long-cherished liberties are unfounded. The resolution said the convention would propose changes to lessen the federal government's power and to impose term limits on members of Congress and other federal officials.
Also, any proposed change in the U.S. Constitution would have to be ratified by legislators in three-quarters of the states, or 38, to take effect.
Backers of the proposal also said each state would have a single vote in a convention, and House Speaker Pro Tem Peggy Mast, a conservative Emporia Republican, said less populous states like Kansas would have more of a say than they normally do in national debates.
"It is time to regain our individual and state's voice," she said.
Convention of States said Georgia was the first state to pass such a resolution in March 2014, followed by Florida, Alaska, Alabama and Tennessee. The group says another 35 states have resolutions.