Bills of Note: Constitutional Convention

Bills of Note: Constitutional Convention

The Assembly is set to vote next week on a resolution that calls for a constitutional convention. SJR 18/AJR 21, authored by Sen. Chris Kapenga (R-Delafield) and Rep. Dan Knodl (R-Germantown), proposes that Wisconsin apply to Congress for the calling of a constitutional convention to create an amendment requiring the federal government to operate under a balanced budget. Under the amended version of the bill, the state Senate Chief Clerk and Assembly Chief Clerk would forward the resolution to the U.S. Senate President and the House Speaker. The resolution would be valid until a convention convenes or the Wisconsin legislature rescinds the resolution.

The Senate Committee on Financial Services, Constitution and Federalism and the Assembly Committee on Federalism and Interstate Relations held a joint public hearing on the resolution on March 28. The committees also heard testimony on a set of related bills that would codify the process of choosing delegates and place controls on their actions while serving, specifically limiting them to the single purpose of the balanced budget amendment.

Those testifying in favor of the bill, including the National Federation of Independent Business, the Heartland Institute, and Wisconsin Grandsons of Liberty, highlighted the existing $20 trillion in federal debt. They argued that the United States needs a balanced budget to provide confidence and certainty for business, the economy and the long-term viability of government programs. Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce also registered in favor of the legislation.

Those speaking against the bill, including the John Birch Society, the League of Women Voters, ACLU, and the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, testified that passing this bill would lead to a runaway convention in which states could change and rewrite any part of the Constitution. The uncertainty of convention rules could jeopardize citizens’ rights, according to the bill’s critics. Opponents of the bills also argued that a balanced budget amendment would prevent the government from offering aid in times of economic downturn or other national emergencies. A mandated balanced federal budget could force cuts to social programs like transportation, schools and healthcare, they said.

After the hearing, the Senate committee in executive session on April 30 passed SJR 18, 3-2. The Assembly committee passed AJR 21 on May 31, 5-2. The full Assembly will vote on the bill in its June 14 floor session.

Article V of the Constitution says that a convention of states to amend the constitution may be called by a two-thirds majority, or 34 states. WI would be the 30th of 34 states needed for a convention if the resolution passes both the Assembly and Senate. An amendment to the constitution would have to be ratified by 38 states.