CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. — With the 2016 legislative session approaching in a few months, a group of state legislators and citizens have renewed a push to gain approval for a constitutional convention to address the growth of federal spending and government and impose term limits on federal officials.
"The country has a strong desire to rein in the federal government," said Norman Bobo, Tennessee Convention of States deputy state director. "This is the only legal, moral and constitutional method to save our constitutional republic."
With the goal of getting a Senate Joint Resolution passed by the Tennessee House in the coming session, the organization is holding a legislator community forum to discuss the issue with the public.
SJR0067, co-sponsored by state Sen. Mark Green, R-Clarksville, passed the Senate during the 2015 legislative session. The goal of the measure is to call an Article V Convention of States that will be "limited to proposing amendments to the United States Constitution that 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."
The organization is hoping to limit the "practice of lifetime government service" for elected officials, as well as "dramatically reduce the size and scope of the federal government," Bobo said.
Additionally, it hopes to be able to limit the runaway spending that's not been addressed by anyone at the federal level, Bobo said. He pointed to the national debt — sitting at $18.4 trillion — and explained that the country has only a few years "before we go off a financial cliff, or we go off a political cliff."
Bobo also explained that despite the fears of opponents to the calling of a convention, the convention would not be able to just "change the Constitution at will." For an amendment to be added to the Constitution, 26 states must vote in favor of proposing it, and then 38 state legislatures would have to ratify the proposed amendment.
"They cannot rewrite the Constitution. They can only propose amendments," Bobo said.
Bobo told The Leaf-Chronicle on Tuesday that this push for a Convention of States had made good gains over the past couple of years it's been active, with their resolution having been introduced in 41 states since 2014. The measure also has passed its first committee vote in 21 state legislatures, has passed its first floor vote in 15 states and has been fully approved by the legislature in four states, he added.
The four states that have fully approved the measure are Alabama, Alaska, Florida and Georgia.
"No other Article V convention application has been filed before in as many states as now," Bobo said.
The group needs 34 states to make an application for a convention to be called, and it expects "to get to 34 states in either 2016 or '17," Bobo said.
After the convention is called, it should take only about a year or less for it to take place, and amendments to the Constitution could be ratified within three to four years, he said.
The Convention of States is a project launched by Citizens for Self-Governance with "the purpose of stopping the runaway power of the federal government," according to the group's Web page.
The forum will feature an overview of Article V and explain how citizen volunteers can "help return power to the states and 'We the People,' " followed by the state legislators speaking about why they favor such a convention and a guest Q&A period.
The public forum will be at 7 p.m. Monday at the Millennium Maxwell House Hotel at 2025 Rosa L. Parks Blvd. in Nashville.
Guests must register at the Eventbrite.com page for the Convention of States legislator forum.
Note: While we do our best to educate members of the media regarding the proper terminology, some journalists continue to use the term "constitutional convention" when referring to an Article V Convention of States. Readers should know the functions and goals of these conventions are entirely different -- a constitutional convention's purpose is to write a new Constitution, while a Convention of States operates under Article V and is only given authority to propose amendments.