Article V of the U.S. Constitution states that a convention to propose amendments can be called by Congress when either two-thirds of both chambers [the Senate and House] "deem it necessary" or two-thirds of state legislatures request it. Any amendments would then be required to be approved and ratified buy three-fourths (38) of the states, whether by the legislatures or ratifying conventions.
Once 34 states submit requests to Congress for the convention , it is up to Congress to determine the time and place of the convention.
Some state lawmakers fed up with what they say is unbridled federal spending are pushing through a resolution asking for a convention of states to force a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
A balanced budget amendment would prevent the federal government from spending more than it takes in.
"[Federal spending] is out of control, and asking the U.S. Congress to pass a balanced budget amendment that requires that they spend within their means, well, it's practically impossible," said Sen. Mark Green, R-Clarksville, a co-sponsor of the resolution.
The Senate Judiciary Committee last week approved by a 9-0 vote SJR 493, sponsored by Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, a resolution to call a convention of the states to propose a balanced budget amendment. The measure is scheduled to be heard before the full Senate today.
The House version of the resolution, sponsored by Rep. Dennis Powers, R-Jacksborough, also saw movement this week when it was approved by the lower chamber's State Government Committee on a voice vote.
Last month, Georgia became the 21st state with an active resolution calling for a convention to amend the nation's governing document. About a dozen other states -- including Kentucky, Utah and Wisconsin -- have similar resolutions proposed in their individual legislatures this year.
Supporters maintain that this is the only way for the American people to rein in excessive federal spending, while critics worry about a "runaway convention" overhauling the Constitution.
Bobbie Patray, of the Tennessee chapter of the Eagle Forum, said the biggest issue with the convention is the lack of laws or rules to guide the decisionmaking once the convention is called, and changes could be made for the worse, not the better. And since Congress had not respected the Constitution so far, she didn't see why they would respect a new amendment.
"If Congress is not following the Constitution now, what makes us think they would follow it after it's amended, and what could we do about it?" Patray said.
Bill Fruth, co-founder of the Balanced Budget Amendment Task Force, downplayed those concerns. He said that historically, amendments to the Constitution had a better record of enforcement than general articles did. Slavery is still illegal, women can vote and adults in most places can enjoy liquor if they want, he noted.
Some lawmakers were still skeptical of the convention idea, although they support a balanced federal budget.
State Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, said that while he had not been in favor of the resolution before the hearing, he now "reluctantly" supports it. Although he favors the idea of a balanced budget, his "biggest concern" is that "you have to be careful what you ask for."
Likewise, Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, expressed hope that there would not be an actual convention called, but that enough states would show intent and "scare" Congress into proposing and approving a balanced budget amendment.
Jim Brown, with the National Federation of Independent Businesses, who represents 8,200 independent business owners in the state, also testified in support of the convention, and said that the issue of a balanced budget and the nation's deficit is not a partisan issue, and deserved support.
"This is not a Republican or Democrat issue. This started a long time ago," Brown said. "It's gotten worse under the last two administrations -- not the last administration. It hit hyperspace about 12 years ago, and the unwillingness for leaders of both sides of the aisle to take on their constituencies, and to address the reforms needed across the board in the budget, that's where we are today."
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