Revisit the Constitution?

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ALEXANDRIA, Va. ??? Reining in the power of the federal government could be as easy ???and as difficult ??? as convening aconvention of states.

Advocates say they are making headway in Virginia.

HJ 497, introduced by Delegate Scott Lingamfelter, R-Woodbridge, says it ???Makes application to Congress to call a convention of the states to propose amendments to the United States Constitution to restrain the abuse of power by the federal government.??? SJ 269, a companion measure sponsored by Sen. Ryan McDougle, R-Mechanicsville, is in the Senate hopper this session. McDougle chairs the Senate Republican Caucus.

Another proposal, HJ 498, patroned by Delegate Steve Landes, R-Verona, would limit the convention to one amendment.

Citizens for Self-Governance, a political organization dedicated to curbing federal spending and authority, lays out this scenario, per Article V.

  • Upon approval by two-thirds of state legislatures, Congress would be required to call a convention of states.
  • Delegates are chosen by the legislatures. Each state gets one vote.
  • Amendments are proposed and voted on at the convention.
  • Ratification occurs in the states, in a process chosen by Congress (by public vote or state legislatures), and must be passed by three-fourths of the states to become part of the U.S. Constitution.

A convention of states proposal was defeated 29-67 in the Virginia House last year. A Senate version failed to clear the Privileges and Elections Committee.

Only three states ??? Georgia, Florida and Alaska ??? have passed convention legislation, but ???prospects are looking better,??? said Craig DiSesa, legislative director at Middle Resolution, which is promoting the convention concept in Virginia.

???We believe it???s going to get passed in the House. We have tremendous momentum there,??? DiSesa said.

The convention appears to be a harder sell in the more closely divided Senate, where Democrats are less hospitable to the cause of curbing federal spending and authority.

There???s even resistance on the right.

???This is not 1787,??? notes C. Mitchell Shaw, a former field coordinator for the John Birch Society. ???Given the chance to tinker with the Constitution, the politicians we deal with today would not produce something that limits the federal government.???

DiSesa said the convention of states would prescribe specific instructions to the delegates. ???If they violate the rules and restrictions placed on them, it would be a felony,??? he said.

While the convention of states advocates using Article V to rein in the federal government, Shaw said states already have the power to nullify unconstitutional laws.

???It???s called the Tenth Amendment,??? he said.

The American Legislative Exchange Council ??? a free market organization of state legislators ??? insists a convention is needed. In a plea to the 50 state legislatures, an ALEC ???handbook??? declares:

???Our nation is trillions of dollars in debt without a credible plan to stop spending. The battle in Congress has escalated to a point where politics outweighs the cost of our economic future, and there is little hope our nation???s leaders will make the tough choices that need to be made in order to reign in our debt and revive our economy.???

???Fortunately, there is a solution outside of Congress,??? said  Rob Natelson, senior fellow in constitutional jurisprudence at the Independence Institute.

This article was updated at 10:45 a.m. Saturday.