Nebraska Calls for Convention of States to Propose Amendments

Jan. 28, 2022, 5 p.m. ·

Senator Steve Halloran, sponsor of LR14, debating Friday (Photo by Fred Knapp, Nebraska Public Media News)
Sen. Steve Halloran, sponsor of LR14, debating Friday (Photo by Fred Knapp, Nebraska Public Media News)

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The Legislature Friday added Nebraska to the list of states calling for a convention to propose amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

The United States Constitution provides two ways that it can be amended. One is for two-thirds of both houses of Congress to propose amendments, the other is for two-thirds of the states to do so. Either way, a proposed amendment must be approved by three fourths of the states to be ratified. The first route, with Congress proposing amendments, has been used successfully 27 times. The second route has never been used.

Friday, Nebraska became the 17th state to call for a convention to propose amendments. That puts supporters halfway toward the 34 states they would need to call such a convention.

The resolution passed by the Legislature says the proposed amendments would be limited to imposing fiscal restraints on the federal government, limiting the power and jurisdiction of the federal government,and limiting the terms of office for its officials and members of Congress.

Sen. Tom Brandt, in his fourth year in the Legislature, said he’s come around to supporting a convention, as called for in the legislative resolution numbered LR14. Before, he said, he believed that voters should elect officials to fix the problems the resolution addresses. However, Brandt said Friday “That just doesn’t seem to be working. We don’t elect new representatives. We don’t elect new senators, we don’t elect new congressmen. And it’s taken me four years to get to this point. Four years ago, the national deficit was about $24 trillion. Today it is pushing $30 trillion. I have had hundreds of frustrated Nebraskans contact me on the need to do something. And I believe this could be the way forward.”

Actually, the national deficit is about $3 trillion. But the national debt, which is the cumulation of deficits, is approaching $30 trillion.

Sen. Steve Lathrop said he is frightened by the national debt. But he said a convention for the solutions being proposed is not the answer.

“The problem in this country is our division. It’s our division. And are we contributing to that division, or are we trying to solve it? This doesn’t solve it. It offers the people who are fiercely engaged in the very activities that create the division ‘We have the answer. It’s simple. We’ll get everybody together and have term limits.’ It won’t fix it,” Lathrop said.

Sen. Wendy DeBoer said she looks at the problem differently.

“I agree there are no simple solutions in here. There are no simple solutions in here, that’s really true. But this isn’t about a solution. This is about a conversation to see if we can get to a solution. And I don’t think we help our division when we won’t have a conversation,” DeBoer said.

DeBoer supported the resolution after getting agreement to an amendment on the previous round of voting to make Nebraska’s call for a convention expire in five years.

Critics argue that there’s no way to prevent a convention from exceeding the purposes for which it was called and proposing wholesale changes. That happened with the Constitutional Convention in 1787, which ultimately led to scrapping the Articles of Confederation. DeBoer acknowledged those fears, but discounted them.

“I think within the constraints of a very constrained call, and with the cameras on them in ways that didn’t happen the last time, I think the people will care about their Constitution and won’t want to completely overturn it,” she said.

Sen. Megan Hunt, opposing the convention, accused supporters of being out of touch with the real concerns of Nebraskans, including COVID-related problems.

“We can’t get people to work in healthcare. They’re leaving because they’re burned out because of the behavior emblemized by a lot of people here in this body who are supposed to be leaders of the people of Nebraska. Businesses in Nebraska – restaurants, venues -- are desperate for efforts to support workforce development and fill great jobs. And yet here we are, playing government with our three-corner hats, acting like we’re make a new little constitution and have some fun, like a Civil War reenactment or something,” Hunt said.

Sen. Mike Flood urged respect for people who are following a process allowed for in the U.S. Constitution.

“There are some of you in this body that have basically ridiculed people that want this to happen. You fed into their very suspicions about how politics works, how government works, how the Legislature works by ridiculing and diminishing what they think is important. (If) you want to stand up on the floor and say ‘I respectfully disagree with calling an Article V convention for these reasons,’ that’s part of the process. But to make fun of them? To rub it in their face? To use language that’s incenidary? Why? What are you accomplishing?” Flood asked.

After the two hours of debate allowed for a filibuster at the final stage of debate, senators voted 33-10 to cut off debate, then voted 32-11 for final passage of the resolution.

This was the vote on LR14. Senators John Stinner and Matt Hansen were excused and not voting.
This was the vote on LR14. Senators John Stinner and Matt Hansen were excused and not voting. (Source: Legislative Journal)

In other action Friday, senators resumed discussion on a proposal by Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks. It requires prosecutors try to use diversion programs for students who are absent from school too many times, before sending them to juvenile court. Pansing Brooks conceded she does not have the votes to overcome a filibuster against her bill. A final half-hour or so of debate is scheduled for Monday.