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Nebraska is no stranger to calling on Congress to open a Convention of States to propose changes to the U.S. Constitution.

While more than 400 applications requesting an Article V convention in order to amend the nation's guiding document have been made since 1787, Nebraska lawmakers have submitted just 11 applications to Washington, D.C., since 1893.

Ten of Nebraska's existing applications remain pending — technically speaking — as no effort has been made to take them off the books, even in cases where amendments addressing those issues were ratified by three-fourths of the states.

In the latest application, the Legislature's Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee heard a proposal (LR7) from Sen. Steve Halloran of Hastings last week to draft constitutional amendments to impose several limits upon the federal government.

Another proposal (LR9), introduced this year by Omaha Sen. Justin Wayne, would latch the state onto a convention aimed at restricting campaign spending.

A separate resolution (LR2) from Sen. Carol Blood of Bellevue, this one to clean Nebraska's cupboard of old applications, will be heard by the Executive Board on Wednesday.

"I think a lot of this is common sense," she said.

Most state lawmakers who voted for the past resolutions calling for a convention of states are now dead, and 95 percent of sitting senators did not have the opportunity to vote on any measures.

Cleaning house will allow senators to have a full and fair debate on any new resolutions, Blood said. "It doesn't need to be bogged down or clouded by something that someone wanted 100 years ago."

Nebraska's old calls for a convention include:

Direct election of senators

On four separate occasions, Nebraska lawmakers joined the movement to change how U.S. senators were elected.

Under Article 1, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution, state legislatures chose senators for six-year terms, but vacancies left unfilled by quarreling legislators and corruption gave rise to the direct-election proposal, which was spearheaded by Nebraska's own William Jennings Bryan in the 1890s.

Nebraska state lawmakers passed resolutions calling for conventions in 1893, 1902, 1903 and 1907, before mounting pressure led to Congress introducing an amendment in 1911. It passed the Senate the next year, and was ratified by 36 states — the three-fourths required by the constitution — in 1913.

Nebraska's four applications remain on the books, however.

Anti-polygamy

In 1911 came "a resolution memorializing both houses of congress, and especially the Nebraska members, for the calling of a constitutional convention to adopt an amendment to the constitution prohibiting polygamy and giving the federal government authority to stamp it out."

The state senate resolution, which did not contain any limitations on the scope a convention could consider, passed in March 1911, according to The Lincoln Star, and later sailed through Nebraska's House of Representatives.

While similar measures were passed in 18 other states — some in both legislative bodies — between 1907 and 1913, no convention was called.

Federal taxing power

The Lincoln Star reported May 24, 1949: "The Nebraska legislature Tuesday joined the move launched in Michigan to call a federal constitutional convention to provide amendments that would limit the taxing powers of Congress. It would be in effect except in time of war."

Now a unicameral, the Legislature joined a swelling number of states seeking to require the federal government to return a portion of the income taxes collected to the states, prohibit the creation of new states except by the vote of three-fourths of the existing states, and set aside 20 percent of tax collections "for the retirement of the national debt."

Omaha Sen. John Adams, who opposed the measure, called it "a drastic, drastic, drastic thing," as well as a precedent the Legislature should avoid, while one of the sponsors, Omaha Sen. Karl Vogel, indicated it was a good opportunity for Nebraska to express its displeasure with federal spending.

Other senators cautioned limiting the federal government's revenue collection could harm farm subsidies. The resolution, which was limited in its scope, passed with 25 votes, but was later repealed in 1953.

Apportionment

A U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down a 1962 voter-approved amendment to the state constitution allowing lawmakers to consider land area in its redistricting efforts raised the ire of several rural senators, who asked the legislature to support an amendment prohibiting the judiciary from ruling on state apportionment questions.

"(Sen. Cecil) Craft (of North Platte) said the Supreme Court has 'no right sticking its nose in state business. Apportionment is a matter for the state to decide through their legislatures,'" The Lincoln Star reported Jan. 27, 1965.

Although then-Gov. Frank Morrison had vetoed a similar resolution two years earlier, the revived effort gained his support.

Presidential electors

The 75th Legislature also joined a movement changing how states cast their electoral college votes, but the proposed convention was not limited to that issue.

Introduced by Speaker Kenneth Bowen of Red Cloud, LR42 proposed amending the electoral college to reflect minority votes. Bowen's "district plan," according to an Aug. 3, 1965, Lincoln Star article, gave states two votes each to reflect the total state vote, plus a vote for each congressional district so that minority votes would be recognized.

Currently, Nebraska and Maine are the only states that potentially split their electoral college votes.

Balanced budget

Former Gov. Robert Crosby asked the Legislature's Constitutional Revisions Committee "to help protect the nation from itself" by joining the call for a convention of states to propose a balanced-budget amendment in 1976.

Sen. John Murphy of South Sioux City introduced LR106 to curb "an inflationary cycle 'that could easily destroy this nation,'" according to The Lincoln Star. The resolution survived three rounds of intense debate before it passed.

Omaha Sens. John Cavanaugh and Ernie Chambers, the newspaper reported at the time, "expressed hope that such a convention would throw the Constitution open to various revisions."

Ban abortion

A proposed "Human Life Amendment" in 1978 also raised the specter that the Constitution could be opened up for all sorts of tinkering.

Three Omaha-area senators sponsored the resolution, one hearing of which "drew a crowd of more than 200 persons with a show of hands indicating an almost even split between" supporters and opponents.

Gov. J. James Exon signed the resolution after it cleared the Legislature on a 36-6 vote. The unlimited resolution remains on the books.

Reaffirmation of LR106

The 101st Legislature reaffirmed the call for a convention of states to propose a balanced-budget amendment in 2010. Sen. Pete Pirsch of Omaha introduced the resolution, which was adopted with 39 votes.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7120 or cdunker@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @ChrisDunkerLJS.

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