Push for convention of states splits Kansas conservatives

Kansas state Sens. Ron Ryckman Sr., R-Meade,, left, and John Doll, R-Garden City, confer during...
Kansas state Sens. Ron Ryckman Sr., R-Meade,, left, and John Doll, R-Garden City, confer during a debate on legislation dealing with COVID-19, Tuesday, May 4, 2021, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan. Republicans are poised to give their leaders the final say over how federal COVID-19 relief dollars are spent. (AP Photo/John Hanna)((AP Photo/John Hanna))
Published: May. 5, 2021 at 4:36 PM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas legislators on Wednesday took time in the final days of their annual session to consider calling for a constitutional convention of the states with the goal of helping to settle an obscure legal question vexing some conservatives.

The state Senate debated a resolution that would ask Congress to call a convention of states to propose changes in the U.S. Constitution. The group organizing the push says on its website that it wants to “bring power back to the states” from “unelected bureaucrats” in Washington. In Kansas, backers want amendments that would impose “fiscal restraints” on the federal government, limit its reach and impose term limits on Congress.

The U.S. Constitution says Congress shall call a convention if the legislatures of two-thirds of the states, or 34, apply for one. To call for a constitutional convention, the Kansas Constitution requires the approval of two-thirds of each chamber of its Legislature, though some convention backers and Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt believe that the U.S. Constitution requires only simple majorities.

Senate President Ty Masterson, an Andover Republican and convention supporter, hoped to pass the resolution with 21 to 26 votes in the 40-member chamber. Although that would be shy of a two-thirds majority, he said he would declare the measure passed and expect to spark a lawsuit to settle the question of what’s required for Kansas to join the call.

“I simply want an answer to the problem,” Masterson said before the Senate’s debate.

The Senate’s debate came with leaders of the Republican-controlled Legislature hoping to wrap up the year’s business by week’s end. GOP lawmakers are negotiating with Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly over school funding and education policy proposals, and legislators also had to finish the next state budget.

The group Convention of States Action says 15 states have applied for a convention. The effort has split conservative Republicans in Kansas.

That created a danger for supporters that the Senate would reject the resolution, thwarting Masterson’s effort to get the legal question answered. But there also would be no legal issue to contest if the resolution passed with a two-thirds majority.

Sen. Richard Hilderbrand, a Galena Republican, said many convention supporters are “patriots” who “see a problem with the federal government,” but chided the push’s organizers.

“They tell you that the court system is our problem,” he told fellow GOP senators during a meeting. “Their solution is to use that same court system to bypass and violate our Kansas state constitution.

Hilderbrand and some other conservatives also are skeptical that a convention would propose conservative changes to the U.S. Constitution, rather than ones favored by liberals. Any of the convention’s proposals still would have to be ratified by three-fourths of the states, or 38.

Mark Meckler, president of Convention of States Action, said approving the resolution by a simple majority and helping to get the legal question answered would counter people who “cower in fear while the country crumbles around them.”

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