OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — An Oklahoma House committee narrowly passed legislation Tuesday that petitions Congress to convene a convention to consider a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
The House Judiciary Committee approved the measure without debate in a bipartisan 8-7 vote and sent it to the full House for debate and a vote.
The measure by Rep. Gary Banz, R-Midwest City, asks for Congress to call a convention under provisions of the U.S. Constitution that authorize the assembly of a national convention at the request of the legislatures of at least two-thirds, or 34, of the states.
The bill says that, so far, 20 states have petitioned Congress for a balanced budget amendment: Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas.
The balanced budget legislation is part of a growing movement among conservative lawmakers opposed to deficit spending on the federal level. The bill says the proposed amendment would prohibit Congress from appropriating money in excess of federal revenue estimates in any fiscal year, except during a national emergency.
The U.S. Treasury Department reported last week that the nation’s deficit from October to January was $184 billion. Last year, the deficit was $680.2 billion.
The measure calls on Congress to convene a constitutional convention that would be limited to proposing a balanced budget amendment. Oklahoma delegates would be authorized to debate and vote on only a balanced budget amendment even if the convention was not limited to that issue.
Some conservative groups have expressed concern about seeking a national constitutional convention because of the possibility that its focus might be wider than a balanced budget amendment, possibly leading to the loss of existing constitutional rights.
Banz is the author of unrelated legislation calling for a statewide vote on whether to convene an Oklahoma constitutional convention. The measure was approved by the House Rules Committee last week and is pending on the House floor.
Banz has said the state constitution requires voters to consider a constitutional convention every 20 years, but the last time they were asked was March 17, 1970. A public referendum to eliminate the 20-year reconsideration was defeated in 1994.
If eventually approved by the House and Senate and signed into law, a statewide referendum on whether to call a state constitutional convention would appear on the general election ballot this fall. If approved by voters, a constitutional convention would be held between July 13, 2015, and June 30, 2016.
Banz has said lawmakers have identified a couple of areas of the 50,000-word, 100-year-old state constitution that might be rewritten if a convention is called, including the document’s declaration of the flashpoint of kerosene. The state constitution officially established it as 115 degrees Fahrenheit.