Two Florida senators are pushing for a constitutional convention to rein in a “runaway” federal government.
State Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, has filed a measure, known as a “memorial,” for the state Legislature to ask Congress to convene a convention to consider constitutional amendments to impose restraints on federal spending, set term limits for members of Congress, and put greater limits on federal powers over the states.
Meanwhile, state Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker, has filed a bill authorizing the Legislature to establish a Commission on Federalism that would evaluate federal laws to determine whether laws passed in Congress are within the framework of the U.S. Constitution “or if the federal government has overstepped their bounds.”
“It will bring Washington back to their senses,” Evers said Monday. “Hopefully, they’ll stop handing down this stuff.”
Under Evers’ proposal, SB 480, the commission would be made up of seven members, including the Senate president and House speaker; the minority leaders of the House and Senate; one senator appointed by the Senate president and two House members appointed by the speaker.
The commission’s primary purpose would be analyzing federal laws, but it would also act as a “committee of correspondence” with other similar commissions in other states.
Evers said the ultimate goal, would be to get the support of two-thirds of state legislatures to convent a constitutional convention – as provided for in Article 5 of the Constitution – if Congress doesn’t act.
While he lacks a House sponsor for the bill, Evers said he’s confident he’ll find support.
“I can’t see anybody who has a passion for liberty and self-government voting against it,” he said. “It would be like voting against someone named ‘America.’”
Naturally, not everyone agrees, not in conservative circles. Writing for the Heritage Foundation in 2011, constitutional scholar Matthew Spalding warned that even such a method of approving amendments is provided for in the Constitution, it contains too much risk that a gathering to control a “runaway” government could turn into a “runaway” convention.
“The vagueness of this method led Madison to oppose the proposal at the Constitutional Convention …” Spalding wrote in a column titled “Don’t be fooled by Article 5 conventions.”
“Combine that with the fact that no such amending convention has ever occurred, and too many serious questions are left open and unanswered.
Over the weekend, Hays was among 97 lawmakers from throughout the country who gathered in Mount Vernon, Va., to discuss organizing such a convention.
In a news release on his Senate website explaining the memorial, SM 476, Hays said concerns about the federal government’s powers are widespread.
“Everywhere I go, people ask me what can be done to reform Washington, D.C.,” Hays said in the release. “This petition to Congress to convene the Article V convention is the first step toward that reform. This ‘runaway’ federal government is of great concern to Americans of all political parties and of all the states.
“Our goal is to have 34 state legislatures pass the petition in the years 2014 and 2015 then hold the convention in late 2015 or early 2016.”
Evers said the commission his bill would establish would put the Sunshine State in the thick of the action.
“Setting up this commission advances Florida to the forefront or at least the higher echelon” of states committed to a constitutional convention, Evers said. “It will move Florida a lot further than where we are today.”
Evers declined to speculate on when a constitutional convention among the states could become a reality, but said the point now is to lay the foundation.
“It may take two years, it may take three years, it may take five years,” he said. “But at least the ball has started rolling.”
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