The state House of Representatives took steps today to try and make sure Tennessee doesn’t accidentally help instigate a wholesale rewrite of the U.S. Constitution.
But one House lawmaker says she’s convinced the state could and should call for a limited constitutional convention to focus on a single issue — chiefly, making it easier for the states to amend the federal government’s guiding document.
“There has to be the political will to do that, and I don’t know that we’re at (that) point,” said state Rep. Susan Lynn, a Mt. Juliet Republican and self-styled state sovereignty enthusiast.
The Tennessee House of Representatives voted 65-23 Thursday to rescind any past expressions of legislative desire that a constitutional convention be convened. Tennessee lawmakers most recently called for a constitutional convention in 1977, with the idea in mind of forcing the federal government to live within its fiscal means.
One lawmaker who voted against rescinding the 1977 resolution argued that the issues that gave rise to the call to convene a convention 33 years ago are still serious problems today.
“The threat of a constitutional convention can serve as leverage to encourage constitutional change and fiscal responsibility,” said Jim Coley, R-Bartlett.. “I believe we should honor the collective wisdom of these assemblies and vote not to rescind.”
A constitutional convention is still warranted to address “the unchecked growth of the federal government over the 1970, 1980s, 1990s and now the 21st century,” Coley said.
Thirty-four states would need to officially request a constitutional convention. Twenty-one states, including Tennessee, are currently on record as desiring one.
That’s a risky proposition to be supporting, said Rep. Matthew Hill, a Jonesborough Republican and sponsor of the bill to repeal the request. Hill worries an open-ended effort to amend the constitution would range far afield from what most Tennesseans would regard as proper, necessary or wise.
“Once you open up the box, they can do whatever they want,” he said of the constitutional-convention amendment process.
If the Tennessee Legislature wants to rally for a rewritten U.S. Constitution, lawmakers should take the time to examine the issues now and renew their call rather than relying upon the 1977 legislature speak for the today’s General Assembly, Hill argued.
“We do not need to trigger a constitutional convention with resolutions that are over 30 years old,” said Hill.
Lynn today joined the Tennessee House majority voting to rescind the call for a convention. But she said she’ll also soon be joining other state lawmakers from across the country pushing to revise the U.S. Constitution to require the federal government to pass a balanced budget each year.
Lynn voiced support for a constitutional convention at a Tea Party rally earlier this month, saying “we have to keep going, we have to keep pushing until we push this monster of a federal government back to where they belong.”
The measure must now be taken up in the Senate to officially remove the previous calls for a constitutional convention.
Andrea Zelinski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.