U.S. constitutional convention bills advance in Ala. Senate
by Tim Lockette
tlockette@annistonstar.com
Jan 23, 2014 | 3137 views |  0 comments | 37 37 recommendations | email to a friend | print
MONTGOMERY — A committee in the Alabama Senate gave the go-ahead to two bills that would lay groundwork for Alabama's participation in a national convention to add amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

The bills' sponsors — Sen Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, and Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Daphne — say they're trying to establish the rules for a constitutional amendment convention in the unlikely event one happens. Both attended a meeting in Virginia last year known as the Mount Vernon Assembly held by state lawmakers who favor a state-called convention to amend the Constitution.

"The likelihood of this happening is slim," Pittman told committee members.

The U.S. Constitution has been amended 27 times since its drafting in the 18th century. Amendments usually come into effect after approval by approval of two-thirds both houses of Congress, followed by ratification by three-fourths of the states.

Article V of the Constitution also allows another route to amendment — a constitutional convention convened at the request of the legislatures of two-thirds of the states. That has never been done before, but the idea has become popular among conservative activists in recent years.

Alabama has already thrown its lot in with the constitutional convention effort. In 2011, the legislature passed a resolution, sponsored by Orr, that called for a constitutional convention to create a balanced budget amendment.

The application for a convention was part of a longer bill urging Congress to pass just such an amendment. Resolutions often pass in both houses in a pro-forma process, without debate. Legislative records show the resolution passed both houses in a voice vote, and there's no record of who cast votes for or against the resolution.

Orr and Pittman proposed bills this year that would set up a process for appointing delegates to a constitutional convention and would establish qualifications for delegates to that convention. Both bills passed out of the Senate's Constitution, Campaign Finance, Ethics and Elections Committee by a 5-0 vote Thursday and are on their way to the Senate. Only Republican members of the committee were present at the meeting.

Orr said other legislators in other states who attended the Mount Vernon Assembly are proposing similar bills in their legislatures this year.

"What I like about the Mount Vernon Assembly process is that they understand they need to have a process in place before they start making applications (for a convention)," he said.

Orr said the Mount Vernon Assembly members will meet again this summer to decide on a set of rules for a constitutional amendment convention. Pittman and Orr have both said the assembly last year was called by state lawmakers and was attended by only state lawmakers — not lobbyists or members of the press.

Orr said he filed a request with the lieutenant governor's office to have the state pay for his travel to the assembly. If that request is denied, he said, he'd pay for it himself.

Asked how many states have already adopted resolutions to request a convention, Orr said the website bba4usa.org tracks requests for a convention for a balanced budget amendment. According to that site, operated by a group called the Balanced Budget Amendment Task Force, 20 states have passed such resolutions, including Alabama. The site also identifies 16 states that are "targeted" for resolutions this year, including Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee. Not on the "targeted" list are large, historically Democratic-leaning states such as New York, Illinois and California.

Orr said that in a convention, he would expect each state to have a single vote.

"That's a non-negotiable where Alabama is concerned," he said.

Democrats have largely dismissed the convention bills as an election year stunt. Sen. Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, said he'd rather see an effort to reform Alabama's Constitution of 1901, which has nearly 900 amendments.

"What I'd like to see is a new Alabama state constitution and a rewrite of the longest constitution in the nation," he said.

Capitol & statewide reporter Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.

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