Conservatives in the South Dakota Legislature are agitating to change the United States Constitution while limiting our ability to make such changes. Seeking to amend the highest law of the land and limiting debate and voting seems the opposite of conservatism.
Rep. Jim Stalzer (R-11/Sioux Falls) and Sen. Ernie Otten (R-6/Tea) lead a group of mostly hard conservatives in sponsoring two pieces of legislation relating to an Article V convention. Article V of the Constitution creates two methods for amending the Constitution: Congress can propose amendments, or two-thirds of state legislatures can call a convention. ALEC, which has been stacking up chips in state legislatures to pass pro-corporate legislation, has been pushing for an Article V convention. Stalzer, Otten, and many of their co-sponsors have traveled to ALEC's national meetings.
Stalzer, Otten, et al. propose House Joint Resolution 1001, calling for an Article V convention to propose a federal balanced budget amendment. A balanced budget amendment is bad fiscal and economic policy, reducing the government's ability to respond to economic crises with deficit spending. Besides, such an amendment should be anathema to these conservative legislators: why rewrite the Constitution to achieve a goal that can be achieved by simple personal responsibility? Don't vote for an unbalanced budget, and you won't have an unbalanced budget, right? If we need to stop Congress from spending like drunken sailors, we don't amend the Constitution to outlaw drinking (hey, didn't we try that?); we just elect Congressmen who don't get drunk... on booze or on corporate welfare.
Attempting to stem the critique that an Article V convention opens the door to repealing and rewriting the Constitution, Stalzer, Otten, et al. propose House Bill 1069 to shackle delegates to an Article V convention to these legislators' narrow agenda. HB 1069 would make it a crime for any Article V convention delegate to vote for an "unauthorized amendment"—i.e., any measure outside of the subject matter prescribed by the state's call for a convention. In this case, the ALEC sponsors of HJR 1001 want a convention that considers nothing but a balanced budget amendment, and they want to impose a fine of $5,000 on anyone who goes to such a convention and says, "Hey, while we're here, why don't we...?"
Telling citizens they cannot vote according to their conscience seems a mean and overreaching restriction on Article V and the First Amendment. Worse, like the balanced budget amendment itself, HB 1069 is unnecessary. In a 2007 Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy article that largely defends the legality of such state restrictions, James Kenneth Rogers says a runaway convention can't really run away: amendments still have to be ratified by three fourths of the states. If the South Dakota Legislature doesn't like the amendments delegates approve, it can simply not ratify those amendments.
An Article V convention is a fun excursion into national politics and Constitutional interpretation. However, it's not paving any roads or paying any teachers in South Dakota. Stalzer's and Otten's colleagues should quickly shut down both HJR 1001 and HB 1069 and get back to the practical business of solving real South Dakota problems.