By Mark Wolf

Every amendment to the U.S. Constitution has been birthed by Congress, where two-thirds of both houses must approve an amendment and three-fourths of the states must then ratify.

Lawmakers during last week's meeting to establish rules for a Constitutional Convention.    (Photo: Barb Berggoetz/The Star )An alternative amendment method outlined in Article 5 of the Constitution allows for 34 state legislatures to petition Congress for a constitutional convention. Any potential amendments arising from such a convention would face the same three-fourths-of-the-states threshold.

The convention method has never been used and a group of state legislators is endeavoring to lay the foundation and ground rules to be used if a convention were called.

Originally known as the Mount Vernon Assembly, the group is now officially the Assembly of State Legislatures. The group drew more than 100 legislators from 31 states (two more states were invited but their representatives had last-minute conflicts)  to a two-day meeting last week in Indianapolis. Most were Republicans, six were Democrats.

Indiana Senator David Long“(The lack of a framework for a convention) has fed into the mystique that you couldn’t have something like this without it running out of control,” said Senator David Long, (R-Fort Wayne), president pro tempore of the Indiana Senate and one of the organizers of the Assembly. “It is important to establish exactly how it’s going to run. You don’t want to be bogged down by the process. You want to be able to talk about the substance of the issues and the policies. That in and of itself is going to take a lot of time.”

Long believes fiscal issues, specifically an amendment requiring the federal government to balance its budget, will be the main force for a future constitutional convention: “That’s the issue that’s driving the ship right now.”

While attendance at last week’s meeting was overwhelmingly Republican, Long said the group’s executive committee is bipartisan and that “Democrats have to find some common ground on this and there are going to be some issues, such as Citizens United, they are interested in. There is interest on both spectrums for different reasons. Whether you can find common ground on any of them is the challenge.”

The Assembly hopes to have rules and process in place no later than the middle of 2015.

“We have to see a majority of states passing resolutions saying that if there was a convention, this set of rules we come up with are the ones we will support,” said Long. “When you get a majority of states saying that, then you’ve at least got control of the process.”

Mark Wolf is an editor at NCSL. Email Mark.

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This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.


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