published Tuesday, March 18th, 2014

Tennessee joins 21 other states in call for balancing the federal budget

Tennessee is the 22nd state to call for a convention of the states to propose a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The General Assembly's lower chamber passed HJR 548, sponsored by Rep. Dennis Powers, R-Jacksborough, on a vote of 89 to 2, with three representatives identified as "present and not voting."

The two "no" votes were Rep. Johnny Shaw, D-Bolivar, and Rep. JoAnne Favors, D-Chattanooga. The three identified as present and not voting were Memphis Democrat state Reps. Raumesh Akbari, Karen Camper and Barbara Cooper.

Shaw, who also voted against the measure in committee twice previously, said in committee that he thought the proper way to address the problems in Washington, D.C., would be to elect better people to Congress, and he didn't approve of the bill's intent. Favors made no remarks about the legislation before voting and could not be reached for comment.

The resolution requests that Congress call an Article V convention of the states, a constitutional process to propose amendments to the Constitution, for the purpose of adding an amendment to the nation's founding document that would require the federal government's budget be balanced each year.

Proponents of this legislation maintain that this is the only way to address runaway federal spending, while critics worry that a convention would allow other significant changes to be made to the constitution or that a balanced budget amendment would hamstring the federal government in responding to emergencies.

For a convention of the states to be called by Congress, two-thirds of the states -- or 34 states -- would have to make a formal request through their respective legislative bodies. Once a convention is triggered, the delegates would decide on an amendment, which, once proposed, would have to be ratified by three-fourths of the states -- or 38 states -- either through the state legislatures or state ratifying conventions.

Additionally, the legislature is considering a companion bill that begins to define the duties and requirements of the state's delegates, as well as procedural rules, should enough states make application for a convention to be called. It defines a violation of the instructions by delegates as a Class E felony, which is punishable by at least one year in prison, but less than six, with a possible fine of up to $3,000.

The legislation, SB1432/HB1379, passed the Senate Feb. 24, 30 to 1, and passed its first subcommittee hurdle in the House on Wednesday. Its next stop is in the House State Government committee today.

Gov. Bill Haslam is "deferred to the will of the legislature" on this matter, said Dave Smith, Haslam's spokesman, in an email.

Contact staff writer Alex Harris at aharris@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592.

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