Lawmakers gather in Indianapolis for constitutional talk

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More than 100 state legislators from 33 states will meet this week at the Indiana Statehouse to discuss the procedures and rules for a possible convention to amend the U.S. Constitution.

Indiana Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, spearheaded the event—called the Mount Vernon Assembly—saying he is concerned about “massive deficits that are threatening you, my kids and grandkids.”

“No generation has dumped this kind of debt on the next generation, and it is really becoming unsustainable,” he said.

But Long said discussion about any specific constitutional amendment is “premature.” No amendments will be proposedat the Thursday and Friday event. Instead, the meeting will focus on the procedures needed to hold an amendment convention in the future.

However, Indiana University law professor David Orentlicher—a former Indiana lawmaker—said he thinks an eventual constitutional convention is unlikely.

“I think the problem they’re facing is partisan divisions on the issues. The more (legislators) spell out partisan issues, the more they’re going to create divisions,” Orentlicher said. “I think this is a several-year process, but I think it’s important to have a national debate.”

Each state is allowed three delegates—one appointed by the majority leaders of each state’s House of Representatives, one by the leader of each state’s Senate, and one by the minority party.

Rep. Ben Smaltz R-Auburn; Sen. Jim Arnold, D-Michigan City; and Long will be representing the Hoosier state.

The event is a preliminary meeting for a possible convention to propose amendments as authorized by Article V of the U.S. Constitution. Long said the assembly is “very important” because the issues will remain in the control of the states and not the federal government and congress.

“We are working very hard to put together a structure and a set of rules,” Long said. “It’s a meeting to set up the rules and construction—how many votes per state, how many delegates, how you establish what will be considered.”

Long said there will most likely be another meeting to finalize the rules in December, but the exact date and place has not yet been disclosed.

There are two ways to propose an amendment to the U.S. Constitution: Congress can propose an amendment with a two-thirds majority vote of the House and Senate, or two-thirds of the states—which is 34—can call a convention to propose amendments.

Smaltz said the state-initiated amendment process “is the only mechanism, besides voting, for the states to be the rudder of our country and redirect the U.S. to a more positive direction.

In both scenarios, three-fourths, or 38 states, must ratify the amendment for it to be added to the U.S. Constitution.

“To get 38 states, then you really need something that can be bipartisan,” Orentlicher said. “The Constitution is very hard to amend. It’s not done very often.”

According to the Congressional Research Service, all 27 current amendments have been passed through the congressional process.

That means the second process—the one more than 100 legislators are meeting to discuss this week—has never been successful.

The last assembly was in the 1980s and focused on the same issues delegates will likely discuss if there is a convention—amending the constitution to require the federal government to propose a balanced budget.

“I think the problem is that the federal government is not required to balance its budgets and the states are. The federal government can just print money and has gotten into that habit,” Long said. Congress has “a culture of unaccountability that does not exist in the states.”

In the 1980s, the balanced budget campaign failed to meet requirements, falling short by just two states, and the convention option faded and has remained unused for about 30 years. Typically, the assemblies were held to rally and prod congress to propose an amendment.

“One of the most important things is that we have no contemporary best practice,” Smaltz said. “We have to look into historical best practices and look at how the constitution was created.”

Long said it’s possible that congress could propose an amendment after the Mount Vernon Assembly, but he does not think it’s likely.

“That has happened in the past, but I don’t think Washington today is the Washington it was in the past,” Long said. “I think it would be very difficult to see any change in Washington. The system is very broken.”

Orentlicher said he thinks Washington is dysfunctional but still motivated by the people’s interests.

“Ultimately, members of congress want to get re-elected, and if they get their constituents to send a strong message, they will respond,” Orenthlicher said. “When the public sends a consistent message, congress will response.”

Also, if there is going to be an amendment passed, he said, “I think (congress) would rather do it themselves.”

Critics of constitutional conventions say they worry that they are open-ended and could allow for the consideration of any amendment on any issue.

“It amazes me those that want a convention assume it would come out the way they expect it to,” said Indiana House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City.

Orentlicher said he thinks people will be reluctant to support the convention if the agenda is open-ended. Still, he said he thinks “it’s good that they’re talking about constitution reform.”

Long said the discussion this weekend will eliminate fears that the possible convention will be a “runaway.” He said delegates will set rules to establish what will be considered.

But Pelath said “it doesn’t merely mean it will get done the way they envision it will get done.”

“It will lead to nothing,” Pelath said. “It’s a carnival show.”


  • It's basic econ
    Mr Concerned Citizen should concern themselves with a basic economics textbook. The effect of stimulus spending in a down economy, particularly liquidity trap, has a stimulative effect. You even acknowledge a small part of it by seeing tax cuts as stimulative. Tax cuts stimulate the economy by causing federal deficits, as long as you don't have crowding out of investment. They do absolutely nothing if you cut spending at the same time.
  • Smoke
    Is it true they plan on burning books at the Central Library?
  • Absurdity of Commentary
    One has to give pause when reading comments from Indie Indy and Markus R. Any reasonable person should realize increasing debt creates a downward spiral of interest and spending that is unsustainable. I supposed the gentlemen have their own political agenda but if it is impossible to argue too much debt in a personal situation, a business situation or a government situation ultimately leads to bankruptcy and failure. We see this time and time again on a micro level but for some reason these people refuse to see the impact at the macro level. In terms of the specific issues they address, The "war spending" certainly contributed to issues but only 19% of the budget is spent on war operations and other defense items http://www.cbpp.org/cms/?fa=view&id=1258 For Markus R., his statement about unemployment is rather arbitrary with no support. In fact, historical precedence actually indicates the economy improves and revenue to the government increases when taxes are cut http://www.discoverthenetworks.org/viewSubCategory.asp?id=310 Ironically, the increase in taxes needed to sustain the unfettered spending in the federal government creates the real economic stress. Too many people make like Markus and Indie make these comments without being fully informed and create the perception they are fact. They are far from fact and really need to provide more formal support if they want to be taken serious in their commentary. So while they are laughing, I will watch this event with serious intent knowing it may be the only way to seriously improve our station.
  • Repeal the 16th
    Any discussion of Fed spending should include a repeal of the 16th Amendment
  • how about real democracy
    If there is a Constitutional Convention, how about going for real democracy instead of representative democracy. One person one vote on the internet. Do away with this archaic system that was designed for horses.
  • 14, count 'em
    I counted 14 general publics watching the proceedings in the designated Statehouse viewing area this morning. A groundswell.
  • Ability to deficit spend is a benefit
    Long and crew don't realize that deficit spending in a downed economy stimulates the economy and prevents an even deeper slump. If it wasn't for the deficit spending official unemployment rates would have peaked at over 20% instead of 9%. Pelath is right. This is going to be a carnival show and we can all expect the laugh at the stupidity that will be on display.
  • Save $? Start With The War Bill
    This would be a good time remind everyone we are at the tail end of $5-6 TRILLION dollar Wars of a less-than-essential nature. Probably a good place to start when looking to shave the debt/deficit/budget. "Gee, where could we save a few bucks? Oh yeah, how about this 5 TRILLION DOLLAR WAR for starters. Sorry grandkids, we just had to go on a Crusade, here's the bill."

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  1. to mention the rest of Molly's experience- she served as Communications Director for the Indianapolis Department of Public Works and also did communications for the state. She's incredibly qualified for this role and has a real love for Indianapolis and Indiana. Best of luck to her!

  2. Shall we not demand the same scrutiny for law schools, med schools, heaven forbid, business schools, etc.? How many law school grads are servers? How many business start ups fail and how many business grads get low paying jobs because there are so few high paying positions available? Why does our legislature continue to demean public schools and give taxpayer dollars to charters and private schools, ($171 million last year), rather than investing in our community schools? We are on a course of disaster regarding our public school attitudes unless we change our thinking in a short time.

  3. I agree with the other reader's comment about the chunky tomato soup. I found myself wanting a breadstick to dip into it. It tasted more like a marinara sauce; I couldn't eat it as a soup. In general, I liked the place... but doubt that I'll frequent it once the novelty wears off.

  4. The Indiana toll road used to have some of the cleanest bathrooms you could find on the road. After the lease they went downhill quickly. While not the grossest you'll see, they hover a bit below average. Am not sure if this is indicative of the entire deal or merely a portion of it. But the goals of anyone taking over the lease will always be at odds. The fewer repairs they make, the more money they earn since they have a virtual monopoly on travel from Cleveland to Chicago. So they only comply to satisfy the rules. It's hard to hand public works over to private enterprise. The incentives are misaligned. In true competition, you'd have multiple roads, each build by different companies motivated to make theirs more attractive. Working to attract customers is very different than working to maximize profit on people who have no choice but to choose your road. Of course, we all know two roads would be even more ridiculous.

  5. The State is in a perfect position. The consortium overpaid for leasing the toll road. Good for the State. The money they paid is being used across the State to upgrade roads and bridges and employ people at at time most of the country is scrambling to fund basic repairs. Good for the State. Indiana taxpayers are no longer subsidizing the toll roads to the tune of millions a year as we had for the last 20 years because the legislature did not have the guts to raise tolls. Good for the State. If the consortium fails, they either find another operator, acceptable to the State, to buy them out or the road gets turned back over to the State and we keep the Billions. Good for the State. Pat Bauer is no longer the Majority or Minority Leader of the House. Good for the State. Anyway you look at this, the State received billions of dollars for an assett the taxpayers were subsidizing, the State does not have to pay to maintain the road for 70 years. I am having trouble seeing the downside.