CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia’s Senate has passed a resolution calling for a convention of states to change the U.S. Constitution, specifically adding a congressional term limits provision.
The vote in the state Senate was 20 to 10 with four absences. The resolution would still need to be passed by the House of Delegates.
And, even at that, two thirds of all states would need to pass equivalent resolutions. Lawmakers said West Virginia would be the 16th.
Advocates for the resolution said it is narrowly focused on the term limits issue. But skeptics warned that no one knows if a convention could be confined to one issue.
There has never been such a convention, even though it is defined by Article V of the U.S. Constitution.
“What I will say is that we have no precedent because there’s never been an Article V convention,” said Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles Trump, R-Morgan, who was in favor of the resolution.
“I will concede that there are scholars who think it is possible there could be a runaway convention.”
Senator Mike Romano, D-Harrison, responded, “Do you think it’s worth the risk?”
Trump replied that the language of the resolution is limited. The text says it is “to set a limit on the number of terms that a person may be elected as a member of the United States House of Representatives or as a member of the United States Senate.”
“I think the limitations imposed by the resolution that would be adopted by West Virginia is one check and safeguard that mitigates the risk that you and others have articulated,” Trump responded to Romano.
He noted that any amendment to come out of the convention would then have to be ratified by three quarters of states.
Romano suggested the resolution was sheer politics.
“I often think the facts are meaningless down here, and this is one of those instances,” Romano said.
Senator Mike Azinger, R-Wood, said he is only mildly enthusiastic about term limits but is a big fan of the convention powers under Article V.
“This is an avenue, a tool that the founders gave us because they were students of history and they know how easily tyrants rise, authoritarian governments rise,” Azinger said.
“I’m not the biggest guy in the world for term limits, but I am for Article V. Article V is a beautiful thing.”
Senator Richard Lindsay, D-Kanawha, said he isn’t against term limits but questioned whether a constitutional convention called by states is the prescription for a relatively run-of-the-mill issue.
“i do not oppose term limits. I don’t think it’s the tyranny that this Article V was created for,” Lindsay said.
He concluded, “I just think there are too many unknowns. This is just not good policy.”
Senator Randy Smith, R-Tucker, the lead sponsor of the resolution, said he’s among many Americans frustrated by Congress.
“I’m fed up. If anybody in here is not fed up with what’s going on then shame on you,” Smith said. “Some of these people stay in there for years and years and years.”
He contended the proposed amendment on term limits would not tear the nation apart.
“The sun’s gonna rise tomorrow if we pass this. The sun’s gonna rise tomorrow if we don’t pass this,” Smith said.
But he did predict future legislative debates about the convention of states.
“Five years from now,” Smith predicted, “someone’s gonna be in here fighting over this.”