Wisconsin Senate OKs constitutional convention call

MADISON — Republican lawmakers finished their drive Tuesday to make Wisconsin the latest state to call for a convention of states to add a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution, driving a resolution demanding the meeting through the Senate despite Democrats' warnings that they could destroy the document.

The Assembly adopted the resolution in June. The Senate's approval solidified the resolution as the state's official position. Resolutions don't need the governor's signature, but Republican Gov. Scott Walker tweeted Tuesday that he supports the call for a convention.

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. Wisconsin is the now the 28th state to call for the gathering.

Republicans insist a balanced budget amendment is needed to rein in federal spending. The national debt stood at $20.24 trillion in September, according to the U.S. Treasury Department.

The convention process has never been used to amend the Constitution. Democrats and other opponents fear a convention could become a free-for-all, leading to far-ranging revisions that could drastically reshape the nation's founding document.

Convention advocates counter that the states would never ratify anything coming out of a runaway convention.

Still, Wisconsin Republicans have tried to assuage those fears by drawing up another resolution. That language would require the state's convention delegation to abide by rules drafted by the Assembly of State Legislatures in 2016. The rules require amendment proposals to pertain to the subject for which the states called the proceeding.

Republicans also crafted a separate bill prohibiting Wisconsin delegates from working on anything outside the convention's scope.

The Senate passed both resolutions and the bill on 19-14 votes.

About a dozen protesters gathered outside the Senate chambers before the floor session began holding signs that read "Hands off the Constitution! Vote no!" and "No constitutional convention." Two protesters wore Revolutionary War-era knickers and wigs.

Debate stretched on for two-and-a-half hours in the chamber. Democrats questioned why Republicans can't balance the budget since they control Congress and the White House. They also complained the nation is too angry and divided right now to change the constitution.

Sen. Fred Risser said the convention might craft amendments outlawing abortion. Sen. Jon Erpenbach said delegates might outlaw the media and strip rights from women and minorities.

GOP Sen. David Craig said the Democrats' fears were ridiculous.

"There's been a lot of cynical rhetoric from the other side," he said. "What I haven't heard is an admission our country has a debt problem."

"Yes, we have a terrible debt problem," shot back Risser. "Why don't you solve it? You've got the power. You've got the control."