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Woman takes on the federal government

Nebraska Sen. Laura Ebke wants to change {amend} the U.S. Constitution.

Ebke, who represents Saline, Fillmore, Jefferson, Thayer and the southeast portion of Lancaster counties, is spreading the word about Legislative Resolution 35, a document she introduced to the Nebraska Legislature that calls for a convention of U.S. states to amend the Constitution.

Sen. Mark Kolterman, who represents Seward, York and Polk counties, introduced Ebke as she spoke about LR35 to a group of 18 people at the Utica Senior Center on Nov. 24, one of the last stops on her tour of town hall meetings across the state.

LR35 serves as an application to the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives under Article V of the Constitution that calls for a convention of U.S. states.

At the convention, state representatives would present one or more amendments to the Constitution to “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,” according to the document.

“We have a general overreach of the federal government,” Ebke said. “If you talk to them, none of them believe they are violating the Constitution. All levels of government infringe on peoples’ lives beyond a strict reading of the Constitution.”

Ebke asked attendees what they thought was wrong with the government, and several people raised their hands.

One man commented that the U.S. free enterprise system and the opportunity to become an entrepreneur are being micromanaged by the federal government.

Others responded that the federal government should not be the entity setting speed limits on state roads, imposing education mandates or controlling Medicaid and that government spending is out of control.

“Spending is a big part of it,” Ebke said. “We have $18 trillion in debt. In the next 20 years, the largest portion of our expenditures will be interest on that debt. That should concern all of us.”

Ebke introduced LR35 for the first time on Jan. 21, 2015. The resolution was then referred to the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee, given a hearing on Feb. 25 and placed on general file on May 6. It will likely be discussed during the next legislative session set to begin Jan. 6.

The document states, “the federal government has created a crushing national debt through improper and imprudent spending,” “the federal government has invaded the legitimate roles of the states through the manipulative process of federal mandates, most of which are unfunded to a great extent” and “the federal government has ceased to live under a proper interpretation of the Constitution of the United States.”

Ebke said changes to the Constitution can only be made two ways: through a vote of two-thirds of Congress or if two-thirds of the states call for a convention. Each of those states must make an application for a convention on the same topic before action may be taken.

Though Ebke said more than 400 such applications have been made over the centuries since the Constitution’s inception, no such convention has ever happened.

“If we were able to amend the Constitution, it would force the federal government to pay attention to the Constitution or it would disintegrate our society,” Epke said. “If two-thirds of the states ratify an amendment and the federal government deliberately ignores that, that changes the game.”

If a convention produced an amendment, 38 of the 50 states would have to ratify the amendment before it would become law.

Ebke said for topics like government scope and spending, a convention is more likely to happen than a vote of Congress.

“Congress would never propose an amendment that would limit their power in any way,” she said.

An assembly of state legislatures in Salt Lake City developed a set of rules for a hypothetical convention at the start of November. According to federal law, delegates to the convention would be limited in what they are able to discuss so that the convention does not produce laws on topics other than the three proposed on state applications.

So far, Florida, Georgia, Alaska and Alabama have successfully passed applications for a convention, which means 34 states still need to in order for one to happen.

Ebke said some people she has spoken with are hesitant about changing one of the nation’s founding documents.

“People are worried about it, but is it any more dangerous than our runaway government?” she said. “I can’t promise we can fix everything, but I think we need to give it a try.”

One attendee who opted not to be named responded that an amendment would not work without a way to hold the federal government accountable.

“You can go through that entire plan, but you don’t have a backup plan when it fails. You’re not proposing anything of consequence that changes what we’re doing now,” he said. “If you say that to Barack Obama, who the heck cares? He’s not following it anyway, and they’re not following it in Congress.”

Others expressed concerns that it might be too difficult to get enough states on board for a convention, but some agreed that parts of the Constitution need to be redefined to meet the needs of people in today’s world.

“It’s supposed to be hard to change the Constitution,” Ebke said.

At the meeting, Kolterman said LR35 had not been discussed at length in the Nebraska Legislature.

“We don’t know how many legislators are on board with us, but at least we’re trying something,” Kolterman said. “If we don’t do this, we’re passing up an opportunity.”

The resolution will require three rounds of 25 votes to pass at the state level.

Ebke, now 53, said a convention would take years to put together. No language has been written for the amendments and no plans have been made on how delegates will be selected.

“Anything that we pass in the next five years, by the time it gets ratified by all the states...we don’t know. I could be 80.”

Around the country, more legislators are standing up to defend the rights of their constituents by supporting the call for a Convention of States. In the next year, many states will file applications. These legislators need support from their constituents. Will you call and write your state legislators, asking them to support an application to call for a Convention of States?

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