The House began shifting gears towards more floor work last week as the intensity of the session ratcheted up. We voted on 33 bills and resolutions. I’m going to focus on four that were rather out of the ordinary.
Thursday saw the House considering measures related to amending the U.S. Constitution, something I’ve never seen in my tenure. That said, however, the central topic was something on which I’ve long hoped to see legislation. As you may know, Congress can initiate an amendment process on its own, by passing proposed amendments and sending those on to the states for ratification. This is how all 27 of the current amendments to the Constitution were enacted. Unfortunately, though Congress has tried to initiate a balanced budget amendment via the same process, the efforts have always failed. However, there is another path. In Article V of the U.S. Constitution, there is a method by which the states can force Congress to initiate an amendment process via a constitutional convention. This provision was included to give the states recourse if Congress refused or was incapable of initiating an amendment. A total of 34 states would need to issue an Article V call in order to trigger this provision. Currently, 20 states have already done so.
The dramatic federal overspending of the last decade and a half has stoked popular interest in Article V. I’ve become favorably inclined as well, since I’ve seen the balanced budget provision of Georgia’s state constitution work very effectively. The ferment has reached many of my colleagues, and thus we had four Article V related measures to consider on Thursday. We spent several hours working our way through them:
SR 371 is a simple, straightforward call, strictly seeking a balanced budget amendment that would have an exception for national emergencies (essentially, war). I supported it, and it passed by 108 to 63.
HR 1215 is also a simple format call, but in addition to a balanced budget amendment, it adds the topics of limiting the exercise of federal power and of creating term limits for federal officials. I supported this one as well, and it passed by 100 to 65.
HB 794 is a much more complex piece of legislation, generated by a national group that is seeking a more expedited path to a balanced budget amendment. It attempts to do so by using an extensively predefined process. While I found the thinking behind it to be very creative and interesting, it does have flaws. Two of them loomed very large in my estimation. First, in the language provided for an actual balanced budget amendment, there was no exception for a national emergency. To my mind, war is the one instance where the federal government should be able to act with alacrity. Considering that many of the founders of this country felt that the primary reason (for some, the only reason) for a national government was for the purpose of defense, I think it’s fair to conclude that they would consider this a very significant flaw.
The second serious flaw stems from the mechanics the bill uses to expedite the process. Specifically, the bill has a provision declaring that, by giving it passage, Georgia thereby pre-ratifies the amendment to be produced by the convention. While supporters claimed that the mechanics of the bill would guarantee that no amendment but the one it outlines can emerge from the convention, I find this a dubious promise. In nearly 10 years of legislating, I’ve seen too many instances where the best of intentions and the most involved efforts of attempted control through legal wording have fallen short. There is no way that a process with which we have no experience, and therefore no precedents, can be planned and controlled completely. Thus I simply refuse to deprive the people and government of this state of the right to review and vote on any amendment produced by convention. As I’m sure you’ve guessed by now, I voted no. Nonetheless the bill passed by 103 to 63.
The last item was SB 206. This bill is what is called a delegate limitation act. It would come into play if a constitutional convention were actually called. The bill sets out rules for the appointing of Georgia’s delegates to the convention, along with processes for binding them to act only upon convention topics that Georgia instructs them to consider, as well as methods for recalling them if they don’t stick to their instructions. I felt it was essential for this bill to be in place for any of the three previous measures to pass. I voted “yes”, and the bill passed by 102 to 68.
Interestingly, since SR 371 came to us from the Senate, our passage of that resolution amounted to final passage. The governor’s signature is not required for this type of measure, so Georgia is now the 21st state to call for a convention on a balanced budget amendment.
On Wednesday, Clay Jones came to page and did a great job. On Thursday, Danny Stone brought Leadership Newton for their state government day, and I enjoyed the chance to visit with everyone.
Doug Holt, R-Social Circle, represents District 112, comprised of Morgan County and part of Newton County, in the Georgia House of Representatives. He can be reached at 404-656-0152 or by email at Doug@DougHolt.org.