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GOP state senator running for congress wants constitutional convention

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A Republican Wisconsin state lawmaker who is running for Congress wants to call a convention of the states to consider making changes to the U.S. Constitution, including imposing term limits on federal offices.

The measure by state Sen. Tom Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst, received a hearing in a state Senate committee on Thursday. It builds upon a similar resolution the GOP-controlled Wisconsin Legislature passed in 2017. That one allowed for calling a convention to consider a balanced budget amendment. This one is more expansive.

The new proposal allows for the convention to consider three things: imposing fiscal restraints on the federal government; limiting the federal government’s powers and jurisdiction; and imposing term limits for members of Congress and other federal officials.

Article V of the U.S. Constitution creates two paths for amending the document. Congress can refer an amendment to the states by a two-thirds vote of each chamber or two-thirds of state Legislatures — 34 states — can request that Congress call a convention of the states. Both methods require at least 38 states to ratify an amendment before it can take effect.

The convention process has never been used to amend the Constitution. Democrats and other opponents are reviving arguments they made in 2017, saying a convention could become a free-for-all, leading to far-ranging revisions that could drastically reshape the nation’s founding document.

The proposal is “reckless,” would tie the hands of federal lawmakers in times of economic crisis and impose “arbitrary and anti-democratic” term limits, said Matt Rothschild, director of the liberal Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, which tracks spending in elections.

Tiffany, along with the measure’s co-sponsor, Rep. Dan Knodl, R-Germantown, penned an op-ed piece ahead of the hearing, explaining their support for the measure. They argue that the ability to call a constitutional convention was put in place to rein in the federal government when it has “grown too reckless.”

“Adding term limits to our Constitution removes incentives for career politicians to become part of the DC swamp, and instead focus their attention on solutions to the problems we sent them there to fix — like our overspending,” Tiffany and Knodl wrote.

Tiffany has been in the state Legislature, where there are no term limits, since 2011. Knodl, from Germantown, has been in since 2009.

The proposal comes as Tiffany is running for Congress in northern Wisconsin’s 7th District. Tiffany’s resolution calls for term limits at the federal level, but he has not said what they should be. One of his Republican challengers, Jason Church, has said he would not serve more than four terms.

No Democrat has announced a candidacy in the deeply Republican district that had been represented by Republican Sean Duffy before he resigned last week. Evers set and then rescinded the date of the special election because it conflicted with federal law. He has not set a new date.

The proposal working its way through the Legislature can be enacted without Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ signature because it is a resolution and not a bill to make a state law. That means the hurdle to enact it is much lower, as it needs to only pass the state Senate and Assembly, both of which are controlled by Republicans who approved a similar idea just two years ago.

Thirty states have passed resolutions calling for a constitutional convention to pass a balanced budget amendment. Fifteen states have passed the more expansive one being considered currently in the Wisconsin Legislature.

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