Utah is one vote away from calling for a convention to amend the U.S. Constitution

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) Rep. Merrill Nelson, R-Grantsville, speaks during a special legislative session on Wed. April 18, 2018.

Rep. Merril Nelson said Monday there are uncertainties involved in Utah and other states invoking Article V, calling for a convention to alter the U.S. Constitution, and sponsoring amendments to the nation’s governing document.

But what is certain, the Grantsville Republican said, is that the federal government will not shrink itself, balance its budget or fix its problems without pressure from outside Washington, D.C.

“We are not going to replace the constitution, we’re not going to weaken the constitution,” Nelson said. “All we propose to do is to propose amendments that will help restrain the federal government and equalize the sovereignty of the federal government and the states.”

Nelson is the House sponsor of SJR9, a resolution that would add Utah to a list of roughly a dozen states calling for a convention to draft and debate constitutional amendments. His comments were made to members of the House Political Subdivisions Committee, which voted 6-5 on Monday to recommend the resolution to the full Utah House.

SJR9 passed the Senate last week in a 16-12 vote, and similar resolutions have been supported previously by the House. If Utah’s Legislature does approve the resolution, a convention could not convene until minimum of 34 states take similar action, and any proposed amendments would require ratification by at least 38 states.

“If something bad were to come out of the convention of the states,” Nelson said, “the remedy is we don’t ratify it.”

Monday’s committee hearing included many comments from members of the public but in support and opposition to the resolution. Don Fotheringham, a Marine Corps veteran, said he fought in World War II and now faces a new battle in stopping Utah from joining the call for a convention.

“These are great guys,” Fotheringham said of Nelson and the resolution’s Senate sponsor, Cedar City Republican Sen. Evan Vickers. “The Japanese were not.”

Fotheringham said a convention would be effectively unprecedented — no such gathering has occurred since the original constitutional convention — and that rules and procedures leave Utah at a disadvantage, like if voting power became tied to population.

“We will be dead in the water,” he said.

But Sam Parker said the United States is a nation of laws and amendments like the 14th, 15th and 22nd have stood the test of time while extending the right to vote and limiting presidents to a maximum of two terms.

“We need this convention to happen so we can restore checks and balances,” Parker said.

The vote divided the committee’s Republican members, with two joining all three Democrats in opposing the resolution. Rep. Val Potter, R-North Logan, said there is already a means for changing the federal government every two or six years by voting for House members and senators who respect state’s rights.

“We can get them to follow our will if we would just do that," Potter said.