INDIANAPOLIS | A Northwest Indiana lawmaker will participate this week in a planning session for a future Convention of the States that could bypass Congress and make changes to the U.S. Constitution if a supermajority of states approve.
State Sen. Jim Arnold, D-LaPorte, will join some 105 delegates from 33 states at the Indiana Statehouse on Thursday and Friday for the second meeting of the Convention of the States planning group dubbed The Mount Vernon Assembly.
Arnold did not attend the group's first session in December at George Washington's Virginia estate, but said he jumped at the chance to participate this time when Senate President David Long, R-Fort Wayne, an organizer of the planning group, asked Arnold to join him and state Rep. Ben Smaltz, R-Auburn, as Indiana's delegation.
"I've got to be honest with you, I was honored that he would pick me out of all the Democrats he could have selected," Arnold said. "But then again, I'm interested in being there because I'm really interested in what's going to come of this."
Article V of the U.S. Constitution requires Congress call a Convention of the States for proposing constitutional amendments if legislatures in two-thirds of the states (34 states) request one. If the convention approves an amendment, it then can be ratified by three-fourths of the states (38 states) and added to the Constitution without additional congressional approval.
However, because an Article V convention never has been called, there are no clear procedures on how it would begin, what rules the convention would follow or whether it could be limited in scope.
Long said The Mount Vernon Assembly is focused on putting a parliamentary structure in place for a Convention of the States, "so that we can have consensus on how this thing is going to be run" prior to Congress authorizing the convention.
"Without this structure, it won't work," Long said.
Arnold said many Hoosier legislators and lawmakers in other states agree that something must be done to bring the federal government under control, and a Convention of the States just might be it.
"There's a lot of unhappiness out there, on both sides, about out-of-control spending in Washington, mandates Washington makes on states, bureaucracy and so forth," Arnold said. "I hope that this striving to have a constitutional convention is where some of these things will be answered."
At the same time, Arnold will attend the convention planning meeting with a wary eye, since the Article V idea primarily is popular among strong conservatives with a wide variety of grievances against the federal government.
"I'm not going to be involved in any kind of bomb throwing, any kind of protesting or disruptive measures," Arnold said. "I'm simply going there, serving as an interested party that's trying to do what's best for our country and our state.
"Senator Long assured me that is not the intention, that it's going to be bipartisan, so I'm really looking forward to it."
Long expects The Mount Vernon Assembly will meet a third time later this year to tweak and finalize the decisions it makes at the Indianapolis session. Then, state legislatures in 2015 can begin sending identical resolutions to Congress, requesting a Convention of the States.
He said if a convention is called the topic of the first proposed amendment likely will be a requirement for a balanced federal budget or some other plan to rein in the national debt.