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Legislative notebook: Senate OKs bill calling for constitutional convention

Tom Humphrey, The Knoxville News-Sentinel • Mar 7, 2014 at 6:00 PM

NASHVILLE (MCT) – Tennessee will become the 22nd state to formally call for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution requiring a balanced federal budget under a bill approved Thursday by the Senate and expected to win approval as well in the House on Monday.

The Senate voted 28-0 for the measure (SJR493), which is intended to call a convention of delegates from the states to draft and propose a constitutional amendment requiring balanced federal budgets "in the absence of a congressional declaration of war or an economic recession."

The House version (HJR548) has cleared the committee system with near-unanimous support under sponsorship of Rep. Dennis Powers, R-Jacksboro, and is scheduled for a final floor vote Monday.

Senate sponsor Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, said the nation's current $17 trillion debt is "the single greatest threat to American security" and a convention provides a means for states to "rein in the federal government."

A separate bill (SB1432) lays out procedures for selecting delegates to the convention, if and when it occurs. Dubbed the "faithful delegate bill" by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, the sponsor, the measure also declares that the Legislature will lay out rules for delegates to follow and that they can be penalized -- including a possible felony charge -- for violating them.

The latter bill passed the Senate 30-1 last week and is scheduled for its first House committee hearing next week.

The convention of the states on a balanced-budget amendment will be triggered, in accordance with Article 5 of the Constitution, when two-thirds of the states, or 38, have formally called for it to occur. Tennessee becomes the 22nd to do so.

Though the bill has won approval by lopsided margins in all votes, there has been opposition. In a House committee last week, for example, Bobbie Patray, president of the Tennessee Eagle Forum, and Hal Rounds, a Fayette County tea party leader, contended a convention could open the door to unintended consequences.

Rounds said that, despite the "faithful delegate" bill, delegates once the convention is underway will be under federal jurisdiction and can ignore state laws. He also complained that the convention call, as structured, only requires a balanced budget -- not reduced federal spending -- and could mean higher taxes rather than spending cuts.

'Amelia's Law': The Senate gave final approval and sent to the governor Thursday a bill designated as "Amelia's Law" in honor of Amelia Dior Keown, a 16-year-old Blount County girl killed when her car was hit by an intoxicated driver in 2012.

The bill (HB1759) is designed to require more use of monitoring devices by released criminal defendants with a history of drug or alcohol abuse. Sponsored by Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, it was approved unanimously in the Senate, just as it was earlier in the House.

Keown, a William Blount High School student, was killed Aug. 14, 2012, when her car was hit head-on by a vehicle driven by John C. Perkins, 44, of Maryville, who was also killed in the collision.

The bill broadens the authority of judges, the state Parole Board or district attorneys – in cases where intoxication was a factor in the crime committed – to require that a person released on parole, probation or through pretrial diversion be required to wear a transdermal monitoring device as a condition of being freed. Through contact with the skin, the devices can detect the presence of drugs or alcohol in the body of the person wearing them.

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