Sunday recap: Lawmakers join another call for U.S. Constitutional convention

The Alaska House of Representatives is again recommending Alaska join a convention to revise the U.S. Constitution.

On Sunday, lawmakers spent nearly 90 minutes debating the merits of a convention to approve a Constitutional amendment allowing states to “countermand” (veto) federal legislation or court decisions.

After the debate, the House voted 24-15 and 25-14 to approve resolutions calling for the state to join the convention and setting rules for the state’s delegates to the convention.

The resolutions were led by Rep. Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer. Among the cosponsors of the resolutions was Rep. Cathy Muñoz, R-Juneau.

The resolutions now go to the Senate for consideration.

Under Article V of the U.S. Constitution, a convention to propose constitutional amendments can be held if two-thirds (34) of the states request one. This process has never been used ─ all 27 of the existing Constitutional amendments were first proposed in Congress and ratified by the states.

In 2014, the Legislature passed a resolution calling for an Article V convention to “impose fiscal restraints on the federal government, limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government, and limit the terms of office of federal government officials.”

Tennessee, Alabama, Florida and Georgia have also requested Article V conventions on that topic, according to a list kept by the chief clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Article V petitions are subject-limited, meaning 34 states must request a convention on the same topic. The requests never expire ─ the House of Representatives list was recently added to include one from Kansas, passed in 1978.

No state has yet requested a convention to propose a countermand amendment, according to the House of Representatives list.

Speaking on the House floor before the vote, Hughes said, “This is not being brought forward because I think the federal government is the enemy. … It is because the balance has tipped and the pendulum has swung.”

Hughes said the pair of resolutions are designed to prevent a “runaway convention” that would address many issues, and Alaska’s intent is to just address the countermand amendment.

If enacted as the 28th Amendment, 30 states would have to pass resolutions countermanding a specific action. There would be an 18-month time limit. If that time elapsed without enough signatures, the countermand would not happen.

Hughes said she believes just the threat of a countermand might be enough to get Congress to reconsider a particular decision, and she does not expect the countermand would be used often if it were an option.

Most members of the Democratic-led House minority opposed the resolutions, as did Rep. Lora Reinbold, R-Eagle River.

Reinbold, noted for her drive to fight federal overreach, said she thinks the countermand movement is well-intentioned but misguided.

“I do believe that it puts the Constitution at risk,” she said. “If you want changes in Congress, you’ve got to change who’s in Congress.”

School testing hiatus

In other business, the House voted 22-17 to approve House Bill 156, which permits Alaska school districts to suspend their standardized testing programs for the next two years.

Rep. Wes Keller, R-Wasilla and the bill’s lead sponsor, said the measure is designed to “take a breather” after the failure of the Alaska Measures of Progress exam.

Designed over three years and intended to be Alaska’s answer to the national requirement for a standardized test to gauge students’ progress, AMP was an abysmal failure. Last year, in the first year of tests, results were delayed and incomplete, providing results that didn’t give administrators the data they wanted.

This year, a fiber-optic cable near the Kansas testing center was severed just as Alaska students were preparing to take their computerized AMP exams. The disruption was so great that the state first postponed, then cancelled all AMP testing.

“We rushed to develop a state-only assessment and what we’ve had is two years of debacle,” said Rep. Jim Colver, R-Palmer, speaking in favor of the bill.

Opponents of the bill warned that without a federally approved testing system, the state is at risk of losing millions of dollars in federal funding contingent upon having a testing system.

“This state will lose almost $100 million in federal funding if we pass this bill,” said Rep. Scott Kawasaki, D-Fairbanks.

“I don’t think the threat is nearly as big as we think it is,” Keller responded, saying that the federal government will give the state time to return to compliance, time in which districts can come up with a solution that can work locally.

“Let’s take a break here and look and review … our accountability and assessment laws,” he said.

HB 156 now goes to the Senate for consideration.

Car seat installers protected

The House also voted 39-0 on Sunday to shield child car-seat installers from civil lawsuits. Fire departments, police departments and hospitals across Alaska offer programs to install child safety seats ─ booster seats and car seats ─ for parents who may not be familiar with them.

House Bill 308, brought by Rep. Charisse Millett, R-Anchorage and Majority Leader, legally shields volunteers in those programs if they have passed training programs to install seats correctly.

The bill also requires car seats for children from 1 to 4 years old, instead of 1 to 5 years old. Booster seats are still required for children between 4 and 8 years old who are not big enough for regular seatbelts.

HB 308 heads to the Senate.

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