The first step in many to call the nation’s first Constitutional convention in nearly 230 years is on its way to Washington D.C., after a proposal from state Sen. Wilton Simpson earned approval from both the Florida House and Florida Senate.
S.M. 368 calls for an Article V Convention — named for the section of the U.S. Constitution that allows states to start the amendment proposal process. This particular convention would demand the U.S. Congress only consider and pass bills with a single subject. The goal is to eliminate the many unrelated riders that get attached to bills, amendments that may not have been passed otherwise on their own.
“This is about having the federal government start conducting themselves in a professional manner,” Simpson, R-Trilby, 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 millions of 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.”
What made it through the Legislature is not necessarily a bill, but instead a “memorial.” It demonstrates Florida’s support of a specific measure, in this case calling for a convention, and does not require the signature of Gov. Rick Scott.
However, that does not mean delegates should start making travel plans. At least 33 other states will have to pass similar or identical memorials before such a convention could be scheduled.
A convention of this sort is just one way to amend the Constitution, but one that is typically not used. In fact, the last time a convention was called this way, it was 1787, and that was to write the U.S. Constitution itself in Philadelphia.
Congress can propose Constitutional amendments, and then have them ratified by the states. However, if Congress doesn’t introduce such an amendment — which supporters of this movement believe Congress wouldn’t do — then the fallback position is to have states call for the convention directly.
The passage of the memorial was great news for W. Spider Webb Jr., a former Tallahassee lobbyist who founded the activist group Single Subject Amendment.
“Both parties are guilty about the use of riders,” Webb said in January. “We are not trying to give Congress a black eye. We are trying to improve the way Americans view Congress.”
Webb now plans to take the newly approved memorial to the national stage as he tries to convince other states to do the same thing.
“If Florida passes this, then other states will take a more serious look at this,” Simpson said earlier this year. “Doing a Constitutional amendment is such a large task, I think it will pick up momentum as more states pass it.”
Many state governments already prevent riders on bills, either by requiring bills to be single-subject, or giving governors the power to veto specific portions of a bill, and approving the rest.
President Bill Clinton tried to accomplish this at the federal level with a line-item veto act introduced by Republican U.S. Sen. Bob Dole in 1996. However, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that law unconstitutional in 1998.