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After much debate, Idaho lawmakers reject call to amend U.S. Constitution

Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, holds up a pocket copy of the U.S. Constitution as he addresses the House State Affairs Committee on Friday, Feb. 9, 2018. (Betsy Z. Russell / SR)

Idaho lawmakers have rejected a call to convene a convention of states to amend the U.S. Constitution, with the aim of passing a balanced budget amendment and otherwise restricting federal power.

Friday morning’s 10-5 vote on the measure followed two days of hearings on the proposal for Idaho to call for an Article V convention of states to propose amendments to the Constitution. Most of those testifying strongly opposed the move. A convention would be called if 34 states issued the call.

Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, lead sponsor of the measure, held up his pocket copy of the U.S. Constitution.

“I really do believe that the Constitution of the United States is inspired, men who were inspired to do the right thing,” he told the House State Affairs Committee, which he chairs. “Are we less entitled to inspiration today than the Founding Fathers were? And I would submit that that same inspiration in fixing our nation’s problems abides within us to do. We are the ones, the state legislators are the ones who can make things happen and happen in a big way.”

“Our states’ rights are being trampled all the time,” Loertscher said. “Here’s one thing that the states can do.” He said he believes “the Constitution is hanging by a thread.”

Rep. Randy Armstrong, R-Inkom, spoke at length, deriding those who oppose the move as fearful and saying they’d have been afraid to support the American Revolution as well.

“I just want you to know that by having so much fear in your heart, I just want you to recognize that you would not have been a patriot, you would not have been a patriot, simply not have,” he said. “Reject the rancid stench of fear that’s in our hearts that we cannot be a Tory, that we can be a patriot.”

“I don’t fear any of this,” said Rep. Christy Zito, R-Hammett. “How I see this is we value our Constitution, we feel it is something we must protect and defend and we have taken oaths to do so.”

“We have laws come out of Washington, D.C., all the time that infringe upon our rights,” she said. “It’s not the Constitution that makes that happen, it’s the people that we choose to send there. … The power of the people is in the power of the vote, not in changing the Constitution.”

Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, asked, “Would I like to amend the Constitution the way I think it should be amended? Sure I would. But will that happen? No.” He cited the “passionate people on both sides” who showed up to testify at the lengthy hearings. “By my count, the people that got up here and testified were probably 4-1 against having a convention,” he said. “The email I’ve gotten has been even more lopsided.”

Rep. James Holtzclaw, R-Meridian, moved to send the bill to the full House with no recommendation – instead of the usual recommendation that it “Do pass.”

“This is just to add amendments,” he said. “I just feel like sometimes it’s OK to add an amendment – we did it 27 times, great amendments throughout the years.”

Critics said there’d be no way to limit what amendments could be proposed at such a convention, possibly opening up the Constitution to major changes.

Citing comments from those who testified over the two days of hearings, Luker said the nation is now in “an unsettled time,” and said, “I do not have confidence that same inspiration will flow as it did in the days of the writing of our Constitution.”