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Key NC Republicans call for changes to U.S. Constitution

An annual proposal to amend the U.S. Constitution has gained strength in the North Carolina House of Representatives, but major hurdles remain.

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Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum and Speaker of the North Carolina House Tim Moore at a press conference calling for a convention to amend the U.S. Constitution.
By
Travis Fain
, WRAL state government reporter

Key leaders in the North Carolina House called Wednesday for a national convention to amend the U.S. Constitution to rein in federal spending and power.

Former Pennsylvania U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, a former Republican candidate for president, visited as part of the annual effort in North Carolina. The push has conservative backing despite divided opinions on the proposal within the General Assembly’s GOP majority.

Santorum pitched a new constitutional convention as a solution for the country's divisive politics, saying states need more power and the federal government needs less because the United States is too large and diverse for one-size-fits all solutions. Santorum is a senior advisor for the Convention of States, a group backing the proposal across the country. He didn’t call for specific amendment language, but for changes that would cap federal spending in light of the nearly $32 trillion national debt, limit federal power and implement term limits in Congress.

Speaker of the House Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, and House budget writer Jason Saine, R-Lincoln, back the proposal, House Joint Resolution 235. To pass it will need majority support in both the House and Senate, which has rejected similar measures in the past.

For a national convention to be held two-thirds of all state legislatures — 34 states — would need to pass a resolution. If that convention proposed constitutional amendments it would take three-quarters of the states, or 38, to add them to the Constitution. Santorum said 19 states have passed convention legislation so far, though that number is often in question because some of those resolutions passed many years ago.

In North Carolina, Rep. Dennis Riddell, R-Alamance, is sponsoring the resolution. Given the growth of the federal government, Riddell called the proposal “not so much a convention of the states as it is an intervention of the states.”

Santorum said he planned to use that line as he travels to other state capitals on the issue.

Many North Carolina lawmakers oppose these resolutions, and one of the chief arguments is uncertainty. Once a constitutional convention begins, they ask, what’s to keep that convention from proposing radical changes, endangering long-cherished freedoms?

Santorum noted the high bar amendments must clear, saying anything agreed to would need “broad national consensus.” He said the country needs this national debate.

Riddell said the resolution likely won’t be heard in a House committee for several weeks. Moore has also supported House Joint Resolution 151, which calls for a similar convention, but one limited to discussion of term limits only. Moore said he expects both measures to pass the House.

What happens in the Senate remains to be seen. Senate Republican Leader Phil Berger’s office didn’t immediately provide comment Wednesday.

Moore said he’s “optimistic” and has discussed the matter with Berger, R-Rockingham. Moore also suggested the measure will be part of the annual back-and-forth between the two chambers over a wide range of legislation as they seek leverage over one another to pass each chamber’s priority.

Joy Ruhmann, the Convention of States director in North Carolina, said the organization is growing, that it has hundreds of volunteers and that they vote. The group has an annual presence at the statehouse, lobbying General Assembly members.

‘What I want everybody to understand is we’re not going away,” Ruhmann said.

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