- The Washington Times - Monday, February 29, 2016

ANNAPOLIS — Annapolis was instrumental in calling the original constitutional convention in 1787, but Maryland lawmakers are split on whether to play a role in calling for a do-over.

Opponents said they fear a repeat of what happened with the founders in Philadelphia — a runaway convention that proposed a complete overhaul of the national government.

“There are no rules on what would happen if and when a convention is called, no rules on how delegates are chosen, how voting occurs at the convention, how money can be spent to choose and influence delegates or how the convention would operate,” Jennifer Bevan-Dangel of Common Cause Maryland said Monday at a House hearing.

Republicans are asking for a convention to require Congress to balance the federal budget.

“In the state, we have to balance the budget every year, and I look at the federal government, time after time, good times or bad times, they spend, spend, spend,” said Delegate W. Anthony McConkey, Anne Arundel Republican. “If Congress won’t regulate itself, then we need to regulate Congress.”

Democrats, meanwhile, say they want to see a convention called to amend the Constitution to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which recognized groups’ First Amendment rights to free speech in political campaigns.

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Delegate William C. Smith, Montgomery Democrat, said the amount of money being poured into campaigns is distorting elections.

“Our resolution, it’s an unprecedented measure for an unprecedented problem,” he said.

The Constitution has two different routes for proposing amendments. The first option, which has been used for all 27 amendments, requires a two-thirds vote in each house of Congress to send an amendment to the states for ratification. Article V also allows for states to call a convention to propose amendments. Two-thirds of the states must issue a call.

The 1787 convention grew out of the Annapolis Convention of 1786, which saw delegates from a handful of states try to resolve issues involving interstate commerce under the Articles of Confederation. The delegates urged Congress to call a full convention of all 13 states for the purpose of amending the Articles.

But some are gearing up to try to keep Annapolis from any role in forcing a convention.

The American Civil Liberties Union said a convention would carry a “great risk that it may be co-opted for purposes other than the purpose for which it has been called,” and argued that if such a convention were called, it could “result in a range of unintended and unforeseeable reforms.”

Convention supporters insist that fears of a runaway meeting are unfounded, saying the states can limit the purpose of a convention.

“We want you to support these if you like the issues and not support them if you don’t like the issues,” said Wylie Burge, Maryland state leader of Wolf PAC, an advocacy group pushing to overturn the Citizens United decision. “Don’t base it on fear of the process. Everyone should take a look at the convention and realize it’s a democratic process and put in the Constitution for a very specific reason.”

Scholars debate what a convention would look like. Some contend that enough states already may have requested a convention, and Congress is derelict in not moving to approve it.

Maryland has passed four resolutions over the years calling for conventions to repeal income taxes, decide the number of state legislators on criteria other than population, restore public school prayer and require a balanced federal budget. Some legal analysts say those resolutions are still in effect.

Delegate William Frick, Montgomery Democrat, wants to repeal those previous calls to ensure they don’t lead to any mischief.

“Maryland actually has already issued several It is an open question, if they don’t appear to expire and we don’t want the prevailing opinions of the early 1930s dictating the future of the state,” he said. “It’s a housekeeping measure without casting judgment on the other calls that are here before you today.”

In Virginia, Republicans also are pushing for a convention aimed at limiting the federal government’s power and imposing term limits on Congress.

One resolution, proposed by Delegate L. Scott Lingamfelter, Fauquier Republican, passed the House of Delegates and is being considered by a Senate committee. A similar bill last year passed the House but failed in the Senate.

“The criticisms that have come forward with respect to the resolution have been distorted and false,” Mr. Lingamfelter said. “That those of us who support appropriating Article V somehow want to do great violence to the Bill of Rights. But you know me, I kind of support the Second Amendment.”

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