Our Opinion: States’ convention call’s fate rests in NC Senate’s hands
Corey Friedman | Times file photo
Political commentator and former congressman Allen West addresses Convention of States Action supporters during an April 2019 rally outside the North Carolina Legislative Building. For five years, advocates for a states’ convention have sought to sign up North Carolina, adding momentum to a nationwide, nonpartisan movement to rein in federal overreach.
Time is running out for North Carolina to make its support for an Article V states’ convention official.
Lawmakers hope to adjourn the 2022 legislative short session in time for the Fourth of July, and a resolution calling for a convention of the states to propose constitutional amendments that passed the N.C. House last year will expire if the N.C. Senate fails to consider it this year.
The nonprofit group Convention of States Action held a Freedom Rally last week on the Halifax Mall between the Legislative Building and Legislative Office Building in hopes of spurring the Senate to act on House Joint Resolution 233, which has been parked in the Rules Committee for more than a year since winning House approval on a 60-57 vote in May 2021. It remains to be seen whether Senate leaders will come through.
For five years, advocates for a states’ convention have sought to sign up North Carolina, adding momentum to a nationwide, nonpartisan movement to rein in federal overreach by circumventing a gridlocked and dysfunctional Congress to propose constitutional amendments that would impose congressional term limits and require balanced budgets.
Article V of the U.S. Constitution provides two mechanisms for amending the highest law in the land. Amendments can advance by a two-thirds majority vote in both houses of Congress or can be proposed and voted upon by delegates appointed by state legislatures when at least two-thirds of the states call for a convention.
Opponents cite unfounded fears of a “runaway convention” where delegates exceed the scope of their mandate from authorizing states and make sweeping changes to our nation’s founding document. The alarmists never explain how this could happen, however, as three quarters of the states must ratify any proposed amendment before it takes effect regardless of whether a congressional vote or a states’ convention advances it for consideration.
It takes 34 states to call a convention and 38 states to approve any resulting amendments. Such a process can’t be hijacked by a handful of latter-day revolutionaries. Claims to the contrary are either disingenuous or misinformed.
HJR 233 would authorize a convention “limited to proposing amendments to the United States Constitution 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 and for members of Congress,” according to the resolution’s text.
Why go the obscure Article V convention route instead of simply asking North Carolina’s congressional delegation to sponsor bills achieving the same objectives? Simple: A Congress where clout and leadership opportunities accrue with seniority will not meaningfully consider term limits, nor is it likely to advance any legislation that limits its own power.
More conservatives than liberals count themselves among the convention of states movement’s public advocates, but the two chief objectives — a term limits amendment and a balanced budget amendment — enjoy widespread support on both sides of the political aisle.
A recent Rasmussen poll showed 82% of Americans want term limits, and a third of N.C. 1st Congressional District primary candidates signed a pledge to sponsor a term limit bill if elected, with Democratic hopeful Jason Spriggs joining Republicans Sandy Smith, Billy Strickland and Brad Murphy in making the commitment. Smith, who won the GOP nomination on March 17, will face Democratic state Sen. Don Davis of Greene County in November.
There’s no reason for President Pro Tempore Phil Berger, the powerful Republican state Senate leader, to keep HJR 233 on the shelf. A nearly identical resolution passed the Senate in 2017 with his vote.
The previous convention of states legislation, Senate Joint Resolution 36, was approved in a 29-20 roll call vote on April 26, 2017. That bill died because it couldn’t win passage in the House that year or during the 2018 short session. A new legislative biennium means backers have to start from scratch.
Berger voted yes in 2017, along with Sen. Danny Britt, R-Columbus, a key voice on criminal justice issues; Sen. Ralph Hise, a leading Berger lieutenant as deputy president pro tem; Sen. Brent Jackson, R-Duplin, a farmer and top architect of Senate agricultural policy; and Sen. Norman Sanderson, R-Pamlico, a leader on open government legislation.
North Carolina could become the 20th state with an active convention call. We urge Senate leaders to heed the people’s will and vote to approve House Joint Resolution 233.
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