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Nebraska lawmakers start debate on constitutional convention

By JULIA SHUMWAYApril 10, 2017

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska lawmakers began debating Monday whether to join nine other Republican-dominated states in calling for a constitutional convention to limit the federal government.

A resolution proposed by Sen. Laura Ebke of Crete would request a convention to propose amendments on fiscal restraint, the size and scope of the federal government and term limits for Congress. It faces stiff opposition from lawmakers from both parties who say there is no way to protect from a runaway convention.

The original constitutional convention in 1787 was called to amend the Articles of Confederation, but delegates threw out the entire document and drafted the Constitution instead. New delegates could do the same thing, said Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha.

“There’s no way to control what these people do once they get there,” he said.

For instance, said state Sen. Paul Schumacher of Columbus, it would be easy for delegates to combine Nebraska and five contiguous western states with small populations into one state to minimize their power in the U.S. Senate.

State Sen. Curt Friesen of Henderson, who attended a mock constitutional convention with Ebke and another state senator last fall, said there was no reason to fear an out-of-control convention.

“The convention can run away, but in the end 38 states have to ratify it,” he said.

Amendments to the Constitution can be proposed by 34 states or two-thirds of both houses of Congress and must be approved by legislatures or state ratifying conventions in 38 states. Despite calls from states over the years for amendments on everything from campaign finance reform to a gay marriage ban, no amendments have been proposed by states.

Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Indiana, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Tennessee already have passed resolutions similar to the one under consideration in Nebraska, and lawmakers in 34 other states introduced such legislation this year. Nebraska state senators who oppose the resolution said their offices were inundated with out-of-state calls Monday morning telling them to “stop filibustering.”

Twenty-nine states, including Nebraska, have called for a convention to introduce a “balanced budget amendment” prohibiting Congress from spending more than it brings in.

Citizens frustrated by federal debt or government overreach should try contacting their congressional representatives instead of trying to rework the Constitution, said Sen. Sue Crawford of Bellevue.

“The Constitution isn’t broken,” she said. “Congress is broken.”

Republicans who control the presidency and both houses of Congress could fulfill campaign promises to balance the budget, said Sen. Adam Morfeld of Lincoln. They shouldn’t need a constitutional convention to do it, he said.

“Let them balance the budget,” Morfeld said. “Let them do what they told the American people they would. This is not a constitutional crisis.”

The Constitution gives states the ability to force change through amendments, and Americans should use whatever options they have, said Sen. Lou Ann Linehan of Omaha.

“We can’t just blame Washington if we have the right and the opportunity to do something about it,” Linehan said.


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