Lawmakers push constitutional convention
RIVERTON — It’s been 234 years since the Constitutional Convention, and some Wyoming lawmakers think that’s long enough.
State Senate Joint Resolution 2 is a bid to launch a new convention of states in order to amend the U.S. Constitution in ways that would limit federal power.
State Senators Cale Case, R-Lander and Ed Cooper, R-Ten Sleep, and State Rep. Pepper Ottman, R-Riverton, have co-sponsored the bill, which was introduced to the Senate on Feb. 24. It was heard Wednesday in the Senate Minerals, Business and Economic Development Committee.
Cooper represents portions of Fremont County as well as Big Horn, Hot Springs, Park and Washakie counties.
Notably, other pens behind the effort are those of House Speaker Eric Barlow, R-Gillette, and Senate Majority Floor Leader Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower.
The convention of states agenda has three priorities, if convened: to cap federal spending, limit centralized authority and impose term limits for members of Congress.
No other objectives would be permitted under the bill language.
Voting on the bill was delayed until the Minerals Committee’s Friday meeting.
During the committee meeting Wednesday, debate grew lively, evoking points of order and even a direct personal comment from State Sen. Chris Rothfuss, D-Laramie.
Rothfuss addressed the large crowd of presenters in the meeting room, most of whom spoke in favor of the convention. He said he doubts whether the rules of the agenda and the Constitution could be followed by proponents if the proponents won’t follow health orders.
“Far less than half of you are wearing masks, which is the rule that we have now…. So when we contemplate the protection of rules, and advocacy by folks who won’t follow the simple ones, it’s a challenge,” he said.
Rothfuss later was rebutted by presenters, but also indirectly by Case, who presented before the committee. Case spoke sentimentally of the intellect and deference to history exhibited by the nation’s founding fathers, and said “can you imagine being there when the Federalist Papers were coming out?”
He said that a convention of states is a respectful alternative to the increasing political and societal tensions that have been roiling throughout the nation in recent months. And, presumably in reference to Rothfuss’s comments, Case said “I’m not worried about a runaway convention… That doesn’t bother me.”
The longtime senator pointed to the convention's agenda limitations, and to the portion of the Constitution that enables it.
Case told The Ranger in an interview that the Legislature has tried to call for a convention before, but those bills have failed in the past.
Nevertheless, “it is a serious attempt to use the tools available in the Constitution to reassert state power in our federal system and attempt to reign in the fiscal irresponsibility,” he said.
The bill itself references the debt, which is now about $28 trillion and has outstripped America’s gross domestic product.
President Joe Biden has proposed fiscal budget of $6.14 trillion. The Trump administration went another $3 trillion into the red in 2020 amid COVID-19 economic measures and the national recession.
“The federal government has created a crushing national debt through improper and imprudent spending,” reads the resolution draft, averring further that “the federal government has invaded the legitimate roles of the states through the manipulative process of federal mandates, many of which are unfunded mandates, and… has ceased to operate under a proper interpretation of the Constitution of the United States.”
Under Article Five of the Constitution, Congress only would be compelled to call the convention if two-thirds of the states – that’s 34 total – applied. Even with the two-thirds achieved, it would take 38 states to ratify the new amendments.
So far, 15 states have passed convention resolutions, 11 (including Wyoming) have active legislation toward that end, and eight have passed the bid in one legislative chamber, according to the Convention of States website.
Alaska, Texas, Arizona, Utah, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, Indiana, Missouri and North Dakota are fully on board.
New Mexico, South Dakota, Iowa, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina and New Hampshire have cleared one chamber.
Wyoming, Montana, Washington, Nebraska, Illinois, Kentucky, South Carolina, Vermont, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Maryland are entertaining legislation.
If all those states passed similar resolutions, they’d have their minimum presence of 34, to compel Congress to call the convention – but would fall short of the 38 needed to amend the nation’s founding document.