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President's Message
League's Goal
Con Con Study Committee Reports (Jean Aoki)
Honolulu League Strongly Opposing Rail (Pearl Johnson)
Gleanings from Our Readings (Jean Aoki)
Amending the State Constitution (Harold G. Loomis)
Drug Policy Study (Suzanne Meisenzahl)
Ah Jook Ku
Tennessee Really Makes it Hard! (Jean Aoki)
In Support of the LWV-HI (Jackie Parnell)
League Immigration Policy (Jackie Parnell)
Iron-Jawed Angels Fundraiser (Jackie Parnell & Mary Anne Raywid)
Hawaii Chapter Report (Leilani Bronson-Crelly & Sue Dursin)
Kauai Chapter Report
Honolulu Chapter Report (Piilani Kaopuiki)
Website Update - - the first year (Stephen Trussel)

Amending the State Constitution

When citizens of Hawaii go to the polls in 2008, we will probably be the only people in our nation facing the question on whether to authorize a constitutional convention. In 2005 or 2006, no calls for conventions were on the ballot although several states did consider convening one. Conventions can be initiated by the legislatures of all 50 states, and in 14 states, governments are required to place the call for a con con on the ballot periodically. In recent years legislatures have been reluctant to issue such a call, and in states where the call is mandatory, voters have voted against convening a con con. Hawaii rejected the call in 1986, and again in 1998.

Alabama, New Jersey and Oklahoma considered putting the call for a convention on the ballot, but none succeeded. In the '80's and the '90's, only one new constitution was adopted -- the Georgia Charter of 1982. Since then, only Rhode Island's constitution underwent a limited revision in 1986. There was an aborted convention in Louisiana in 1992. It was proposed by the Governor to resolve fiscal problems. Voters turned down amendments proposed by the convention. In the 1992 - 93 biennium, a referendum for a convention call required by their state constitutions were all turned down by voters in Alaska, New Hampshire, and Ohio. In 1994, Michigan put the question on the ballot and it was overwhelmingly defeated. In New York State, where a commission had preceded the call for a convention, identifying issues that needed to be addressed and educating the voters for a convention, the call was turned down by voters in 1997.

In New Jersey where the issue of property taxes was especially troubling, (the New Jersey LWV advocated a convention limited to the issue of property taxes), the measure calling for a con con made it through the House but stalled in the Senate. (In many states, the legislatures can call for either a limited or an unlimited con con.) According to the LWV-NJ President, the governor called a special session of the legislature during the summer, holding numerous hearings and getting lots of input about the problems, and enacted several laws which may or may not prove to be real reform.

Legislatures Convening as Conventions

There have been several cases where the legislatures of different states have convened themselves as constitutional conventions. By and large, the citizens have rejected their proposals because, according to G. Alan Tarr, Director of the Center for State Constitutional Studies and the Chair of the Department of Political Science at Rutgers University, "Voters generally view the constitutional convention as their special avenue of governmental decision-making. Voters tend to view such legislative involvement in constitutional revisions as a usurpation of a power belonging to the people."*According to Mr. Tarr, "What is perhaps most attractive about a constitutional convention is that it maximizes the opportunities for popular participation in the process of constitution-making.

In most states, voters decide whether a con con should be held. Then they elect the delegates to represent them at the convention. Then the voters get to approve or reject the proposals placed on the ballot by the convention.  "Each of these votes," says Mr. Tarr, "represents an important opportunity for the exercise of popular sovereignty. Voters can refuse to authorize conventions and in fact frequently do so. From 1970 to 2000, they defeated twenty of twenty-four proposals for conventions. "It is no exaggeration to say that the constitutional convention represents the closest institutional approximation of a gathering of the entire population to deliberate on its constitutional future

Legislatures Reluctant to Put Calls for Convention on the Ballot

Why have Legislatures repeatedly voted down putting the call for a con con on the ballot? Some would say it is the issue of redistricting. Whereas in most states legislatures have a free hand in the redistricting process, the issue has been raised by many citizen groups as in need of reform. And what better place to initiate reform than at a constitutional convention? Others attribute this to the fact that politicians are reluctant to lose control over the revision process and the amendment proposals

Presently the Most Popular Way of Amending a Constitution

So what is currently the most popular way of amending a state's constitution? Amendments initiated by legislatures through the normal legislative process, followed by those proposals put on the ballot through citizen initiatives, are the two most widely used procedures. According to a publication of the Council of State Governments, The Book of the States, 2006, between 2001 and 2005, there were 515 legislative proposals for amendments on the ballots of the various states; 391 of these amendments were adopted by voters for an adoption rate of 74.8%. There were 95 amendments proposed through initiative, 39 were adopted for an adoption rate of 43.6%.

In the next issue of Ka Leo Hana, we will discuss the use of commissions to revise the constitution.

Harold G. Loomis

* "Learning the Lessons of Constitutional Reform": Alabama in National Perspective, in The 1901 Alabama Constitution: A Century of Controversy, edited by Bailey Thompson.

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