State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Katie Meyer covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.

Lawmakers file memos to initiate a constitutional convention

Written by Katie Meyer, Capitol Bureau Chief | Aug 11, 2017 10:25 PM

Constitutional conventions are rare. The last one was called in 1967. (Photo by AP)


(Harrisburg) -- Two lawmakers are looking to introduce legislation that would force Pennsylvania to reevaluate its constitution.

The process is known as a constitutional convention.

Such initiatives crop up every few years in the legislature--typically after some form of public outcry. This effort was largely prompted by the commonwealth's stalled budget.

Senator John Eichelberger of Blair County and Representative Stephen Bloom of Cumberland County--both Republicans--submitted proposals for the convention in their respective chambers.

The memos use similar language. Both say that "citizens are increasingly concerned about the size, cost and inefficiency of their government," and both list "spending without an enacted budget" as a problem ripe for change. 

To get the ball rolling, the legislature has to agree on the terms of the convention, then voters have to approve them in a referendum. Delegates are then elected to decide how to change the constitution, and finally another referendum is held on the updates.

The process takes at least two years.

Commonwealth Foundation Director Nathan Benefield helped author a study on constitutional conventions, and said they're one of the surest ways to make fundamental changes to state government.

"Especially when you're talking about legislative reform, like term limits, you aren't requiring the legislature to pass legislation itself first," he said. "You're relying on the constitutional committee to design those changes."

Because the process is so complicated, though, conventions are rare. Benefield said efforts to initiate them usually peter out before the bills pass through legislative committees.  

The last convention was called in 1967.

Published in News, State House Sound Bites

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