Issue info: Constitutional convention

Kaleb Warnock

This year’s general election presents voters with the opportunity to hold a constitutional convention, which would allow expedited and direct amendments to the Constitution and would give many failed bills a second chance.

There is a new field on the back of the ballot: “Shall there be a convention to revise the Constitution, and propose amendment or amendments to same?”

This is an option that occurs every 10 years that gives voters the opportunity to vote for the convention.

A constitutional convention has not occurred during the entire 164 years since Iowa was admitted to the union in 1846 and has only been permitted by the Iowa Constitution since 1970. The last attempt to hold a convention was in 2000 and was overruled with a vote of only 32 percent in favor of the convention. This year could be Iowa’s first constitutional convention.

According to Article X, Section 1 of the Iowa Constitution, in order for a standard amendment to the Constitution to be passed, it must be presented to either house of the Iowa General Assembly and pass through both houses with a majority of votes.

The bill is then placed on the ballot for the next general or special election and voted on by Iowa residents.

However, a constitutional convention is a very different process. The convention is made up of a legislature-appointed committee of delegates that discuss and amend bills before passing them onto voters in a general or special election.

This allows approved bills to skip the long and difficult process of making it through both houses, which can take four years or more and go directly to voters.

“You could presumably have voters say ‘yes’ to the convention on the ballot,” said Richard Johnson, legal services director for the Legislative Services Agency.

“If so, it could potentially be on a special election next fall,” he said in reference to bills approved by the convention.

Many political and religious groups are hoping to give a few failed bills a second chance; one is a bill titled House Joint Resolution 6.

It reads, “Marriage between one man and one woman shall be the only legal union valid or recognized in this state.”

If this bill were to be passed, it would overturn the Iowa Supreme Court ruling that ruled in favor of same-sex marriage in the controversial court case, Varnum v. Brien.

The bill, HJR6, was initially introduced to state legislators in February 2009. The bill was sent to committee, but failed to be approved and did not make it to the House floor. It was resubmitted in February 2010 when the motion to address and amend the resolution failed once again.

However, because the topics of the constitutional convention are not limited to exclude previously failed bills, it could return.

“The contents of this resolution [HJR6] could be proposed in the constitutional convention as one of the results that could go to voters,” Johnson said.