TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Conservative Republicans who see the federal government as out of control split Wednesday and halted the push in Kansas for a convention of states to propose changes to the U.S. Constitution.
The state Senate spent nearly three hours during the final days of its annual session to consider a resolution asking Congress to call a convention. Some backers hoped its approval would help settle an obscure legal question vexing them, but senators thwarted their plans by voting 21-19 to send the resolution back to committee.
“It does nothing to send it back, except delay the project and maybe kill it,” said Acting Senate Majority Leader Larry Alley, a Winfield Republican.
Convention backers envision a one-vote-per-state gathering that proposes “fiscal restraints” on the federal government and term limits for Congress. Convention of States Action, a group pushing the idea, says on its website that it wants to “bring power back to the states” from Washington’s “unelected bureaucrats.”
The U.S. Constitution says Congress shall call a convention if the legislatures of two-thirds of the states, or 34, apply. To call for a constitutional convention, the Kansas Constitution requires the approval of two-thirds of each chamber of its Legislature.
Kansas convention supporters have mustered simple majorities in the Legislature in the past but not two-thirds majorities. They argued Wednesday that because the U.S. Constitution doesn’t set a margin for legislatures, state constitutions can’t require a supermajority. Attorney General Derek Schmidt, a Republican, agreed in a 2019 legal opinion.
Senate President Ty Masterson, an Andover Republican and convention supporter, hoped to pass the resolution with 21 to 26 votes in the 40-member chamber. Although that would be shy of a two-thirds majority, he said he would declare the measure passed and expect to spark a lawsuit to settle the question of what’s required for Kansas to join the call.
“I would like, eventually, an answer to that question,” Masterson said after the Senate’s vote.
The Senate’s debate came as leaders of the Republican-controlled Legislature hoped to wrap up the year’s business by week’s end. GOP lawmakers are negotiating with Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly over school funding and education policy proposals, and legislators also had to finish the next state budget.
Convention of States Action says 15 states have applied for a convention. The debate Wednesday in Kansas was mostly among the Senate’s 29 Republicans. All 11 Democrats voted to send the resolution back to committee, and they generally worry about how a convention would operate and what might come out.
Asked why fellow Democrats weren’t more active, Senate Minority Leader Dinah Sykes, of Lenexa, smiled and said: “Republicans were doing just fine.”
Some Republicans are skeptical that a convention would result in conservative changes in the U.S. Constitution because proposals still would have to be ratified by three-fourths of the states, or 38. But on Wednesday, several were more concerned that skirting the state constitution’s two-thirds requirement would be an abuse of power as bad as any from Washington.
“We’re endangering our future to operate on a normal basis,” said Sen. Rob Olson, an Olathe Republican. “The Kansas Constitution is just too important to throw it away.”
Mark Meckler, president of Convention of States Action, said approving the resolution by a simple majority and helping to get the legal question answered would counter people who “cower in fear while the country crumbles around them.”
Masterson and other Republicans rejected the idea that convention backers’ plans would ignore the state constitution if successful.
“The debate was fun. I had a good time,” Masterson told reporters afterward. “We took the shot and ended where we did, and that’s OK.”
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