State delegates meet at Washington's home to explore Article V Convention

BALTIMORE - It is something never before done.  And like so many journeys, it is beginning with a single step.

The "it" is an Article V Convention in which states propose amendments to the U.S. Constitution, and that single step was taken through a letter sent to every state lawmaker, each Speaker and each Senate President in the country amid a backdrop of perceived dysfunction in Washington, D.C., that includes the troubled rollout of the Affordable Care Act , a partial government shutdown and a national debt climbing ever higher.

The letter, titled "The Mount Vernon Assembly," invites each state to send up to three lawmakers to Washington's historic Mount Vernon Home on Dec. 7.

At this point, more than 100 legislators from 30 states confirmed they will be attending.  There is also a waiting list to get in because of capacity limits.  A spokeswoman for Maryland House Speaker Michael Busch says his office has not heard of the Assembly, nor do they plan to attend.  ABC2 contacted Senate President Thomas "Mike" Miller's office.  We are awaiting a response.

To keep outside influences to a minimum, all attendees are paying for their own expenses and must be currently serving as a state legislator.

It is important to note these lawmakers are not official delegates authorized by their state legislature, rather those who are simply interested in being part of the process of drafting rules for a Convention of the States. 

Rep. Chris Kapenga (R-Wis.) , one of the lawmakers who signed the invitation letter, says defining how that Convention would work is critically important.  He says there have been hundreds of Article V applications, but never has one been successfully called.

"States are not used to working toward a common goal.  With the focus solely on defining how a Convention of the States, including an Article V Convention for Proposing Amendments, would function, we are learning how to work together."

Article V Convention

Article V of the Constitution provides two ways to propose and ratify amendments.  The first is through the commonly known Congressional method where a proposed amendment must be approved by two-thirds of both houses of Congress and ratified by three-fourths (38) of the states.

The other, lesser known, process occurs through the states when two-thirds (34 states) ask Congress to "call a Convention for proposing Amendments…"  Those amendments then go through the same ratification process.

The process allowing states to propose amendments was a late addition to the Constitution, being proposed by George Mason just two days before the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia ended in 1787.  Mason believed leaving the amendment process solely up to Congress would result in "no amendments of the proper kind [being] obtained by the people if the Government should become oppressive."

Laying the groundwork

But Article V doesn't define how a Convention of the States would operate.

"It is clear the Founders left this responsibility to the states by not specifying it in the Constitution," said Kapenga.  "As you know, those powers not enumerated are left to the states under the 10 th Amendment."

He says the Mount Vernon Assembly is the first step to addressing the problem by creating those rules and procedures.  Once they are defined, a Convention of the States would be called to finalize and adopt the rules and procedures.

Proposing, let alone ratifying, any new amendments is still a long way off.  But the first step in that journey has already been taken.  The second step will be made this Saturday at the home George Washington, a man many consider the Father of the Country.

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