By a 67-29 vote, the House of Delegates on Thursday defeated a resolution that would have urged Congress to call for a convention of the states to propose amendments to the Constitution.
The resolution, sponsored by Del. L. Scott Lingamfelter, R-Prince William, passed in a close voice vote in the Rules Committee on Friday. Lingamfelter said last week that he was aware it would “take a lot of work” to get it passed on the House floor.
Senate Democratic leader Richard L. Saslaw, D-Fairfax, had already made clear that the resolution would have been a nonstarter in the state Senate.
Lingamfelter said on the House floor that “if there was ever a time for state legislatures to consider a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, it is now. We, as states, have an opportunity to speak to this issue.”
But Del. Robert G. Marshall, R-Prince William, said on the House floor that he was concerned with the idea of a convention because the Founding Fathers “did not spell out specific rules” for such a gathering.
“This is something very fundamental that may alter the structure of government,” Marshall said. “There is no clear understanding how this would proceed and I urge a no vote on that.”
At a convention, the states would come together and propose constitutional amendments to “impose fiscal restraints on the federal government, limit its power and limit the terms of office of its officials and members of Congress,” Lingamfelter told the committee last week.
Article 5 of the Constitution says a convention of the states requires “application of the legislatures of two-thirds of the several states.” This means a minimum of 34 states would be required to petition Congress to set a date and venue.
Each would send delegates to the convention and have one vote. Amendments could pass by a simple majority and would then have to be ratified by the legislatures of at least 38 states.
Supporters of the measure say a convention would be a way to change Washington by circumventing Congress.
“This was deeply disappointing to see unjustified fear triumph over facts,” said Michael Farris, founder of Patrick Henry College in Loudoun County and of the Convention of the States Project.
“We will continue educating both citizens and legislators,” said Farris, the 1993 Republican nominee for lieutenant governor. “We will be back.”
Farris said as a Virginian, he had hoped that his home state “would lead on this issue.”
Some conservative groups also opposed Lingamfelter’s proposal.
The John Birch Society, which has repeatedly warned against using Article 5 to propose constitutional amendments, applauded the resolution’s defeat in the House.
“A lot of educational effort is going into both sides of this issue; however, since an Article 5 convention process would be unlimited, the outcome of such a convention could be detrimental not only to the Constitution, but to the security and happiness of this and future generations of Americans,” said the group’s spokesman, Bill Hahn.
“An educated electorate is needed to raise and elect candidates to office who will obey the Constitution,” he said.
Lingamfelter indicated last month that if his resolution failed, he would introduce it again next year.