Scott, Legislature set guidelines for Constitutional convention

Now that Florida has taken the first official step to call for what is described as an Article V Constitutional convention, preparations are being made just in case the other 33 needed states sign on and make it happen.

Gov. Rick Scott signed into law H.B. 609 on June 2, which outlines what Florida will do in case such a convention is ever convened. The state had not put together any protocol for such an occurrence in the past, but only because since the U.S. Constitution was ratified more than 200 years ago, no such convention has ever taken place.

But the possibility of an Article V convention happening started becoming a reality when H.M. 261 — a companion bill of S.M. 368 introduced by state Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby — gained the approval of both the House and Senate. That memorial takes a big first step to amend the U.S. Constitution with a measure that would force Congress to consider only single-subject bills.

“This is about having the federal government start conducting themselves in a professional manner,” Simpson told The Laker/Lutz News back in January. “Most of the frustration we have with our government is that you have something like a spending bill in Congress. They always add on several hundred million dollars of something that has nothing to do with the subject they are dealing with. And as a citizen of the state of Florida, I am tired of our federal government being operated this way.”

An Article V convention is one of two ways to amend the Constitution. The other is to have an amendment proposed by Congress itself, and then ratified by a super majority of the states — exactly how previous Constitutional amendments were implemented.

H.B. 609 passed the House on April 11 by a 73-42 margin, and the Senate on April 25 by a 21-15 vote. Simpson, who introduced the original memorial calling for the convention, did not vote on this supplemental bill.

The new law will allow both the House and Senate to appoint delegates and alternates to an Article V convention, if one were called. It would require the Legislature to adopt a resolution from both the House and Senate providing instruction to those delegates, according to a House analysis of the bill.

All of the delegates would be required to swear an oath to support the constitutions of both the United States and Florida, and abide by all the instructions of the Legislature. Failing to do to that could mean living life as a convicted felon.

If a delegate does not follow those instructions, their vote would be voided and their appointment to the convention would be forfeited. They also could be charged with a third-degree felony.

Whether or not such a violation took place would be up to an advisory group appointed by the Legislature, given final say on whether a delegate is acting within the law or not.

W. Spider Webb Jr., a former Tallahassee lobbyist who founded the group Single Subject Amendment, is not surprised there would be such restrictions on delegates, since they are meant to be agents of the Legislature if such a convention were called.

“They are representatives of the state legislatures, and it is the state legislatures that are sending their representatives and doing the will of the legislatures on their behalf,” Webb said. “They are agents, and can only act within the authority given to them by the principal. If they act outside that agency, then the principal is not bound by their actions.”

Even if a convention was called, it does not necessarily mean an amendment would be produced. The goal, Webb said, is to get the states together to discuss it, and find some consensus in getting an amendment on the table.

In the meantime, other states may start following the lead of Florida and Indiana in putting together guidelines on how delegates to such a convention would be selected and managed. Indiana passed its own guidelines not long after the senate president there called for what he described as a “Mount Vernon Assembly” to discuss the possibility of amending the Constitution outside of Congress, according to published reports.

Scott signed H.B. 609 along with a number of other bills to start off June, including the state’s $77 billion budget.

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