Convention of States Blocked in Legislature

April 23, 2021, 5:34 p.m. ·

Sen. Steve Halloran (NET screenshot)

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The latest attempt to get Nebraska to join 15 other states in calling for a conference to propose amendments to the U.S. Constitution has failed.

Article Five of the U.S. Constitution provides two ways to amend that constitution.

The first is for Congress to propose amendments by a two-thirds vote in both the House and the Senate, and three quarters of the state legislatures approved. That’s the way all 27 amendments to the Constitution have been made so far.

The other way is for the legislatures of two-thirds of the states (34) to call a convention to propose amendments, which would also have to be ratified by three-fourths of the states (38).

That’s never been done. But 15 states have so far agreed to call for such a convention, to consider three subjects: First, to impose fiscal restraints on the federal government; second, to limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government, and third, to limit the terms of office for its officials and for members of Congress. The idea is being promoted by Citizens for Self-Governance, a group with ties to the Tea Party movement.

A proposal by Sen. Steve Halloran would have made Nebraska the 16th state to join in the call for a convention. But the proposal remains bottled up in the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee.

Friday, Halloran tried to get the Legislature as a whole to pull the bill out of committee onto the legislative floor for debate. Sen. Tom Brewer supported Halloran’s move. Brewer, a retired 27-year Army veteran, said the issues are important.

“I hold the Constitution as dear as anyone. You don’t live the life I’ve lived and not have that the bedrock of what you do. So I’m not excited about changing it either except, I see no other path ahead. It’s great to say ‘well, something will come up. We’ll figure something out. It’ll work out.’ The truth is, we’re on a death spiral with our budgeting,” Brewer said.

Sen. Steve Erdman also supported a convention.

“If you’re fine with the government running out of control like they are today, then we just need to continue the road we’re on. But if you’re concerned that we may be spending a little too much money; if you’re concerned about the way things are in Washington, D.C. and they need to reined it; if you’re concerned about all the issues that are coming down in executive order(s) and all the things that are happening to us, then we need a convention of the states,” Erdman said.

Sen. Adam Morfeld called the idea dangerous. Morfeld said once a convention is called, there wouldn’t be any way to make sure it sticks to the three subjects mentioned in the resolution.

“Does anybody think right now that we should be having a constitutional convention in Washington, DC? Does anybody honestly think that that’s going to go well? Does anybody honestly think that there’s not a danger that they could amend other constitutional amendments that we all hold dear, whether it’s the First Amendment, the Second Amendment, the Fourth Amendment, the Fifth Amendment, maybe states’ rights – the Tenth Amendment?” Morfeld asked.

Brewer, who chairs the committee where the bill is stuck, said he thinks when the Legislature organized itself at the beginning of this year, his committee was deliberately structured to produce stalemates on controversial legislation.

“You have a deadlocked committee that is never going to change in their view of the world. And if anybody tracks the Government Committee, I think it was designed by the Committee on Committees to be that very thing: a deadlocked four on four committee,” he said.

The committee consists of three registered Democrats – Sens. Carol Blood, Matt Hansen, and Megan Hunt, and one registered Republican, Sen. John McCollister, who often sides with the Democrats in the officially nonpartisan Legislature.

These four are offset by four other registered Republicans: Brewer, Halloran, and Sens. John Lowe and Rita Sanders. Sen. Hunt, a member of the Committee on Committees that makes assignments, affirmed Brewer’s thought that that deadlock was deliberate.

“We worked very hard over four days to make sure that that Government Committee was four-four. And why? Because we have a ton of voter suppression bills coming through that committee and we knew that we would. We have winner-take-all elections. We have voter ID. We have extremely expensive bills proposed to supposedly make our elections more secure, but it would actually just disenfranchise even more people. And we had to keep those ideas in committee,” Hunt said.

It would have taken the votes of 25 senators to pull Halloran’s proposal for a convention of the states out of the committee and have it debated by the full Legislature. On Friday, he got only 23 votes, with 14 senators voting no.