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Wisconsin conservatives seek constitutional convention on balanced budget

Written by LOPPW | 04/11/2017

Wisconsin conservatives seek constitutional convention on balanced budget

Patrick Marley , Milwaukee Journal SentinelPublished 10:00 a.m. CT March 28, 2017 | Updated 7:17 p.m. CT March 28, 2017

MADISON – Fed up with Congress, conservatives in Wisconsin want to call the states together for a convention that would add a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Conservatives here and elsewhere are getting close. Thirty-four states are needed to call a convention for proposing amendments to the nation’s founding document. So far, 29 have — some of them decades ago.

Wisconsin could join their ranks this year.

Two committees of the state Legislature heard testimony Tuesday on measures that would call for a convention, determine who would go there and establish the rules that would be followed if it took place.

State Sen. Chris Kapenga (R-Delafield) and other backers of the proposals said they would be the best way to get the federal budget under control.

Kapenga told the committees that the constitutional provision allowing states to hold a convention creates a “release valve” when Congress fails to address critical problems.

“The founders put this in specifically because they saw the powers of a national government over time consolidated,” he said.

But Democrats contended the plan could put free speech or abortion rights at risk because delegates could rewrite other sections of the Constitution.

“Why go through all this and open the process to those other rights we hold so dear?” asked Sen. Kathleen Vinehout (D-Alma).

Article V of the Constitution allows a convention for proposing amendments to be held if two-thirds of the states — 34 — call for one. To take effect, any amendments passed at a convention would have to be approved by three-quarters of the states, or 38.

No constitutional convention has been held since the Constitution was framed in 1787. Amendments since then have been proposed by Congress and approved by the states.

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Conservatives pushing for the convention are focused on balancing the federal budget. But liberals have also called for constitutional amendments in recent years, such as ones that would broaden voting rights and reverse the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that allowed businesses and unions to spend unlimited amounts on elections.

The Wisconsin proposal — as with ones adopted in other states recently — would specifically limit the purpose of the convention to considering a balanced budget amendment.

Scot Ross, executive director of the liberal group One Wisconsin Now, argued in written testimony that anything could come up once a convention were held.

“Who knows what would be concocted in back rooms by unelected delegates in this political environment, with big money special interests seeking influence over every aspect of the political process, ideological extremism run amok and unprecedented political division?” he said in his testimony.

Rep. Michael Schraa (R-Oshkosh), a backer of holding a constitutional convention, said the growing call for the move could spur Congress to act even if a convention is never held.

“Don’t you think this whole process is really a wake-up call to Congress?” he said.

Republicans in Wisconsin are proposing three measures dealing with a convention.

Senate Joint Resolution 18 would add Wisconsin to the list of states calling for a constitutional convention specifically for a balanced budget amendment.

Senate Joint Resolution 19 would put Wisconsin on record in supporting procedural rules at the convention established last year by a conservative group called the Assembly of State Legislatures. Kapenga is co-president of that group.

Senate Bill 17 would shape who would be sent to a convention if one were called. Under the bill, Wisconsin would send seven delegates — three appointed by the speaker of the Wisconsin Assembly, three appointed by the president of the state Senate and one appointed by the governor.