Utah lawmakers call for convention to amend constitution


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A group of Utah Republicans are calling again for states to convene a special convention to place new limits on the federal government.

Utah Rep. Merrill Nelson, R-Grantsville, said Monday he plans to file a bill this week to have the legislature apply for an Article V convention of the states to limit federal powers, impose spending limits on the federal government and install term limits for members of congress.

“It’s the solemn duty of the states to call an Article V convention and restore the proper balance of federalism,” Nelson said, arguing states need to step forward and overcome the “abuses” of a federal government that has overstepped its constitutional responsibilities and has spent its way to some $21 trillion in national debt.

It’s a proposal that has thus far failed to get through the state legislature and one with little concrete success nationally, but this time backers think GOP control of Congress and the White House could help generate new momentum.

Nelson made his announcement via Skype to a gathering of about three dozen mostly supportive residents who met at the Dixie Center in St. George for a 90-minute primer on the proposal.

The meeting didn’t draw a large crowd, but it did feature a half-dozen state lawmakers, including several who represent southwestern Utah.

The state legislature opens its annual general session Jan. 23, and this will be the third straight year for an Article V proposal to get consideration. Last year it passed the House, with support from all of southwestern Utah’s representatives, but died on the Senate floor before the legislature adjourned.

This year, Nelson said he expects it to make it through both chambers.

An Article V convention, the process of which is outlined in Article Five of the Constitution, has never been called by the states before.

It would take two-thirds of all state legislators to apply to Congress and call an actual convention, and backers are still a long way from reaching that 34-state benchmark. As of the beginning of the year, only eight states had successfully approved an application.

But supporters are hoping Donald Trump’s recent presidential victory and the ensuing confidence boost among conservative states could encourage more states to get on board.

Some conservatives worry about the prospects of a “runaway” convention where delegates run roughshod and strip the document of some of its most fundamental tenants.

Many on the liberal side of the aisle are worried state delegations would abandon decades’ worth of federal programs that benefit the poor and underprivileged.

But Nelson and other backers argued that such worries are unfounded, suggesting the rules in place would limit delegates to their directed duties.

Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, argued that legislatures across the country have the responsibility to move ahead and call a convention, saying the Article V option exists as a way for states to step in and reestablish the checks and balances the nation’s founders set up.

“It’s that division of power that secures our liberty so we can unleash our ability to create peace and prosperity and wealth,” he said.

Ivory served as president during a mock convention hosted in September by the Convention of States Project (COS), an advocacy group based in Virginia.

The simulated exercise, billed as a run-through that could show how a convention might actually work, was an invitation-only event held in Williamsburg, Virginia, with legislators or former legislators from across the country brought in to participate. They passed six amendments.

Nelson, Ivory and Rep. Kim Coleman, R-West Jordan, participated as Utah’s delegation.

Critics questioned how representative the simulation truly was — most of the participants were convention-backing conservatives, even those brought in from left-leaning states, and the group followed rules drawn up by the COS.

Ivory said he suspects the effort to call a convention could take “four or five years.” He and others noted the bar is high to get enough states on board.

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