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Panel endorses convention on amendment to rein in national debt

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PHOENIX – The states can and should band together to rein in the national debt by amending the U.S. Constitution, a conservative group’s constitutional scholar told lawmakers Wednesday.

“We see a dangerous concentration of power in Washington,” said Nick Dranias, director of the Center for Constitutional Government at the Goldwater Institute, an independent watchdog group that promotes limited government and free enterprise.

Dranias told the Senate Committee on Government Reform that the solution lies in a resolution that would make Arizona one of 34 states that would have to petition Congress to call a national convention on an amendment requiring that a majority of state legislatures approve any plan to increase the federal debt.

As one of two avenues outlined in Article V of the U.S. Constitution, Congress must call a convention on amending the Constitution when two-thirds of states agree one is needed. Ratifying an amendment would require approval by three-quarters of states.

“There is no doubt that the check and balance provided by our dual sovereignty is on the ropes,” Dranias said. “The founders of the U.S. anticipated this problem, and the solution was built into the Constitution.”

The committee voted 4-1 to endorse SCR 1005, authored by Sen. Linda Gray, R-Phoenix. The measure is similar to one that failed during last year’s legislative session.

Gray said it’s important that states step up to address the nation’s debt because Congress is failing to act.

“There’s no denying we have a runaway debt that’s choking out America and the future of our children,” she said.

Glenn Hughes, chairman and co-founder of Inc., a Texas-based nonprofit focused on addressing the federal debt, said a constitutional amendment is the way to avoid economic calamity. He co-wrote the measure and is urging legislatures to approve it; so far, North Dakota and Louisiana have, he and others said.

“We’ve looked at many solutions but arrived at this one, which we feel is a step in the right direction,” Hughes said.

Curtis Olafson, a Republican state senator from North Dakota who drove the effort in his state, told the committee that a convention is “the only option left.”

“Americans are rightly frustrated with what’s happening in our country, and they’re looking for a solution,” he said.

Sen. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix, who voted against the measure, complained that supporters haven’t approached Democrats to discuss their views.

“There are a lot of bills to tend to, and this one has already come through and failed,” he said. “Until there’s a fair discussion outside of a hearing there will continue to be a partisan divide.”