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The Utah House called Friday for a convention of the states to consider new amendments to the U.S. Constitution, which supporters said is the only way to rein in an out-of-control federal government.
It passed HJR3 on a 45-29 vote, and sent it to the Senate for consideration.
The resolution calls for a convention that would consider amendments to "impose fiscal restraints on the federal government, limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government, and limit the terms of office for its officials and for members of Congress."
"We are in jeopardy of losing our republic," said HJR3's sponsor, Rep. Merrill Nelson, R-Grantsville. "States are no longer equals in our government. States must be restored to their roles as sovereign, equal partners."
He added, "Congress is broken. The president is broken. And the Supreme Court is broken. And the only way we can repair these functions of the federal government is through a constitutional amendment. They will never voluntarily back down and change their course. They will continue to pursue expansion of their power."
Nelson said he envisions, for example, that a constitutional convention would pass an amendment allowing action by 30 states to overturn federal laws.
Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, who has sponsored similar calls previously, said, "We can re-declare independence right now with a document, not a musket or a pitchfork. We can re-establish the divisions and limits of power right now."
Critics worried it could turn into a runaway convention, and potentially entirely rewrite the existing Constitution.
Rep. Kay Christofferson, R-Lehi, said even if that happened, the states would not ratify it so it is not a valid concern.
"They wouldn't ratify something that is worse than what we have now," he said. "As states we have a duty to protect ourselves. This is one way to do it."
Rep. Ed Redd, R-Logan, said the problem with the federal government is that officials ignore the Constitution, so he said amending it would have no effect.
Rep. Sandra Hollins, D-Salt Lake City, the House's only African American, said she opposed it figuring that the Legislature would not include minorities among its delegates. "It will be a convention of the rich and the powerful. That's not who I represent."
House Democratic Leader Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, also bristled at Nelson's suggestion that Democrats like a strong, powerful central government that dictates to states.
"Some on the right like a big, strong central government, too," he said. "Like when it comes to interfering with the market by bullying companies about where they do business, or keeping people from particular religions … from entering our country, or telling women that they can't control their bodies."
The U.S. Constitution allows for a convention of the states to propose constitutional amendments as as long 34 states submit similar applications. But the process has never been tried.
All amendments to the Constitution to date have come via a different method: being passed by two-thirds votes in both chambers of Congress, and ratified by three-fourths of the state legislatures.