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W.Va. Senate calls for U.S. constitution convention

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A divided Senate passed a resolution Thursday calling for an Article V Convention for a federal balanced budget amendment.

Following a lengthy debate, lawmakers approved Senate Concurrent Resolution 13 via a voice vote Thursday.

In February, Ohio Gov. John Kasich visited the West Virginia Capitol to drum up support for the convention and federal balanced budget. It takes 34 states to call for an Article V Convention and 38 states to ratify a constitutional amendment. Twenty-four states have resolutions calling for an Article V Convention to enact a balanced budget amendment. Since Ohio passed its balanced budget amendment in 2013, Georgia, Tennessee, Michigan and Louisiana have passed similar resolutions.

Though all of the senators who spoke Thursday voiced support for requiring the federal government to have a balanced budget, critics voiced concerns the convention could balloon to include other areas of the constitution, something proponents of the resolution admitted could be possible.

Minority Whip Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, said while the resolution would limit what representatives of West Virginia could discuss at the convention, it would place no such restriction on representatives from other states. Unger said non-energy-producing states could effectively dictate policy in West Virginia, much as the EPA is doing now.

“I want a balanced budget. I want that amendment,” Unger said, “but I don’t want to open up all of those other things.”

“I believe the way (the resolution) is crafted, it certainly is designed to be limited,” said Sen. Charlie Trump, R-Morgan, chair of the Senate’s Judiciary Committee. Introduction of other constitutional amendments at the convention, “is that a possibility? I guess I would have to acknowledge it is a possibility. (The resolution’s) design and intention is to limit the discussion to one single issue.”

But Trump also pointed out any decision which came out of the convention would still have to be ratified by 38 states, which does place a level of checks and balances on those items.

“I’m comfortable enough to vote ‘yes’ on this resolution,” he said.

Sen. Herb Snyder, D-Jefferson, said calling a convention “has entirely too much risk. Once that Constitution is open, anything is on the table.”

The Founding Fathers “faced ridicule and possible death,” in drafting that document, Snyder said. “Can I set here today when we are on the brink of undermining our very Constitution by opening it up to a free for all? I’m not willing to do that. There are other ways to deal with our out-of-control budget.”

Legislators defeated a proposed amendment which would have expanded the topics to be covered at the convention to include whether corporations and their donors should be protected under the First Amendment.

A recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court opened up campaign finance to large and largely-anonymous donations from corporations.

Advocates for the amendment said the convention would provide an opportunity to address the issue, but those in opposition said it muddied the waters and would ultimately take away from the convention, which is supposed to be narrowly focused on the federal budget. The amendment failed 13-21.

The full resolution now goes to the House for consideration.

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