• Okla lawmakers seek changes in state and U.S. Constitutions

    By: Rick Maranon

    Updated:

    OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. - A bipartisan movement is growing at the State Capitol that calls for changes to the Oklahoma and U.S. Constitutions.

    Lawmakers from both parties have filed multiple bills calling for Constitutional Conventions to add new amendments to the governing documents that are more than a century to two and a half centuries old.

    It's 120 to 160 pages long, depending on how you format it," State Senator Nathan Dahm (R-Broken Arrow) said. "It's a very large document with a lot of things in there, very archaic things, and some of those things we don't even refer to anymore in how we do business."

    Dahm told FOX23 he filed a bill calling for a Constitutional Convention at the state level, not because he has some specific changes he'd like to see, but because the Oklahoma Constitution calls for a convention every 20 years if voters request one.

    But he said voters haven't even had the chance to vote yes or no on a convention because lawmakers like the way things are, and they are concerned about changes in the way they currently do their jobs in Oklahoma City.

    "Whether or not we believe that we should have one, that's for the people to decide," Dahm told FOX23. "It's our constitutional duty to get this passed and get this on the ballot."

    Some lawmakers, however, are also thinking bigger. In addition to a few bills filed for a state convention, there are also bills filed in the Oklahoma House and Senate calling for a national Constitutional Convention as permitted in Article V of the U.S. Constitution that would create new amendments to the nation's governing document.

    Leading the way for an Article V convention is State Senate Majority Whip Rob Standridge (R-Norman). 

    "If we would've had a balanced budget amendment back in 1983, we'd be 17 trillion dollars less in debt today," he said.

    Standridge believes that two issues can bring the state together for two new amendments to the U.S. Constitution, a balanced budget amendment and term limits for members of Congress. 

    "The only two things I think we can get unity on with enough states that fits the bill today are a balanced budget amendment and term limits. I think the 38s could possibly ratify those," he told FOX23.

    Standridge said if Oklahoma were to ask for a National Convention, it would join 25 other states that are already seeking a convention for a balanced budget amendment and term limits. He also said social issues like abortion and marijuana legalization could be brought up by outside groups during the convention, but they are likely to be too divisive to reach the three-fourths of states needed to create a new amendment. 

    University of Oklahoma Political Scientist Keith Gaddie tells FOX23 Constitutional review is a good thing, especially when it comes to documents like a state constitution.

    "We are operating under constitution that was created over 100 years ago in a society that was very different than ours," Gaddie said about the Oklahoma Constitution.

    But he also warned, like Standridge mentioned, that sometimes conventions at the state and national levels can get out of hand with social issues and lose their focus.

    "There's no way to control these," Gaddie said. "The great fear people might have is a runaway convention, and people go off in a radical direction that you don't anticipate."

    Gaddie tells FOX23 that just because a convention is called over a specific topic, there is nothing in the State and U.S. Constitutions that forces participants to stay on topic.

    State Representative Emily Virgin (D-Norman) has also asked for the State of Oklahoma to request and Article V convention along with requests made from Standridge, but her call for a convention would be about campaign finance reform in the wake of the Supreme Court's Citizen's United ruling.

    Gaddie said the calls for an Article V National Convention show that the nation has an appetite to talk about more than just one or two subjects, especially when people have a national platform.

    "Most of the time, unfortunately, you have a convention, and it just turns into a great political show, or a shouting match," he said. "Then, you go home without accomplishing anything except making your point on a national stage."

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