LINCOLN — Late in the 2021 legislative session, a resolution adding Nebraska to the list of states calling for a convention to propose amendments to the U.S. Constitution appeared dead in the water.
The proposal, Legislative Resolution 14, from Sen. Steve Halloran of Hastings had failed to advance from committee, and a motion to pull it onto the floor fell two votes short of 25, a simple majority of senators.
But a motion to suspend the Legislature’s rules late in the 90-day session allowed the resolution to be considered in committee once more, and negotiations between Halloran and Sen. John McCollister of Omaha produced the fifth vote needed to put LR 14 on the floor.
The Legislature advanced LR 14 to second-round consideration on a 32-10 vote Monday afternoon, the first day of floor debate in the 2022 session, after a filibuster attempt was scrapped. Four senators were present but not voting.
“Honestly, I think most people were expecting the full eight-hour filibuster, and that didn’t happen,” Halloran said. “I was surprised.”
The resolution and others like it introduced in recent years have failed to gain traction in the Legislature, despite many conservative senators supporting it.
LR 14, like resolutions adopted in 15 other states, would call for a convention of states as outlined in Article V of the Constitution.
Under the resolution, convention delegates would be responsible for drafting proposed constitutional amendments imposing fiscal restraints on the federal government, limiting the power and jurisdiction of the federal government and setting term limits for officeholders
Supporters say constitutional amendments are necessary to rein in out-of-control spending that has grown the country’s debt. Halloran, a Republican, laid blame at the feet of presidents dating back to George W. Bush.
“The debt clock is ticking,” he said, referring to the U.S. Debt Clock, which puts the national debt at almost $30 trillion, equal to about $89,000 for every person in the country.
While a constitutional amendment could erect guardrails against federal spending and limit the government’s authority to spend, opponents said Halloran’s resolution left room for delegates to interpret intent.
Sen. Matt Hansen of Lincoln said the language was too broad, potentially allowing a convention to interpret the call to “limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government” as anything up to the elimination of Congress.
But Halloran said the Constitution is clear on the process.
Any proposed amendments that emerged from a convention of states would need to be ratified by three-fourths of the states before they would become law.
Sen. Adam Morfeld of Lincoln, who sponsored an amendment stating that the convention could not restrict Second Amendment rights, warned that the convention would not be limited by any resolution passed by a state legislature.
“The only precedent we have is the constitutional convention that went rogue the last time we had one,” Morfeld said, referring to the 1787 convention that replaced the Articles of Confederation with the Constitution.
Morfeld noted that the Legislature had suspended its own rules to give Halloran’s resolution new life and said there was nothing to stop a convention of states from doing something similar.
After about three hours of debate, the Legislature soundly defeated Morfeld’s amendment, and two other amendments introduced by senators who signaled opposition to LR 14 — Hansen and Sen. Megan Hunt of Omaha — were then withdrawn, clearing the way for a vote on the resolution.
Hunt said after the vote that instead of taking debate to the eight-hour limit in the first round, opponents would try to defeat LR 14 in the second round of consideration, when a filibuster needs to push debate only four hours under the rules adopted by the Legislature.
If that happens, LR 14 will need 33 votes to escape a filibuster.