The South Carolina Senate approved a proposal on Wednesday calling for the convention of states to pass constitutional amendments that restrain the federal government's power — but the state House failed to act on the bill before the session ended.
Gov. Henry McMaster in April signed into law a bill making South Carolina one of about 18 states joining the call for a constitutional convention -- just over halfway to the 34 states necessary for Congress to make such a convention. Proponents of the movement want to add amendments establishing a federal balanced budget and congressional term limits.
“The folks in Washington don't seem to be able to control themselves and control their spending,” said Rep. Bill Taylor, one of three House members appointed to the conference committee. “So it's up to us states.”
Passed 24-14 by the state Senate on Wednesday, the bill has the same intent with different language as the one signed by McMaster, according to Taylor. He said the language brings South Carolina's convention application closer in line with those of other states.
The proposal calls for amendments that “impose fiscal restraints on the federal government, limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government, and limit the terms of office for its officials and for members of congress.” The proposal also outlined the criteria for selecting delegates.
Opponents have raised concerns that existing constitutional amendments protecting civil rights, gun rights and freedom of speech might be jeopardized if the convention were to meet.
The state House had added conditions to the proposal clarifying that the Reconstruction amendments -- constitutional amendments Nos. 13, 14 and 15, which sought to abolish slavery, grant equal protection and give Black men the right to vote -- could not be altered at a potential convention.
Speaking Wednesday on the floor, Sen. Margie Bright Matthews asked why the state House found it necessary to add the conditions.
Sen. Chip Campsen dismissed concerns that members of any constitutional convention would successfully roll back those protections.
“The chance of anyone ever proposing that and it actually prevailing is nil, zero,” Campsen said. “We all know in reality it would be off limits.”
Campsen added that the inclusion of those conditions would have turned South Carolina’s request into an application separate from the other states calling for a convention.
The state Senate passed a version of the bill without the House conditions, a decision Campsen said the joint committee made unanimously.
Because the state House failed to act on it Wednesday, Taylor said the bill will have to be reintroduced next session.
James Pollard is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow James Pollard on Twitter.