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South Carolina Senate OKs call for constitutional convention

By JEFFREY COLLINS
Associated press

COLUMBIA (AP) — The state Senate on Wednesday approved a proposal that would add South Carolina to a list of states calling for a convention to propose specific amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
All African-American senators voted against the proposal, saying they feared the national meeting would destroy the protections their ancestors had to fight for more than two centuries.
Nearly 20 states have adopted similar measures. The US Constitution requires that two-thirds of the states, or 34, call for the convention.
The South Carolina Senate’s 27-13 vote gave key approval to the proposal that supporters say would limit the convention to a few points – spending checks on the federal government, limiting the jurisdiction and power of the federal government and set term limits for Congress.
Two Republicans nervous about the convention turning red and passing amendments that could eliminate the right to bear arms, with all but one Democrat voting against the bill.



Black Senator Ronnie Sabb had his own concerns thinking about the original, and so far only, constitutional convention in 1787. The Founding Fathers did not outlaw slavery and counted slaves, who made up most of the African Americans, as three-fifths of a person despite the Declaration of Independence 11 years earlier proclaiming that “all men were created equal”.
“It takes me back to the beginning, when every man was not constitutionally considered a man,” said Sabb, a Democrat from Greeleyville.
Sabb and other black lawmakers feared a convention would strip free speech rights, ban slavery, and guarantee full citizenship and rights to anyone born in the country.
“Why are we willing to risk this experiment in a democracy over an experiment in a convention?” Sabb said.
The South Carolina House passed a similar 66-42 measure last month. The Senate made small changes to the proposal, so after a final cursory vote, it will return to the House.
Proponents said any amendments suggested by the convention would need to be passed by three-quarters of the states – 38 legislatures or special conventions.
Whenever the Constitution has been amended since the adoption of the Bill of Rights in 1791, the other method has been used to amend the document: under Article V of the Constitution, the addition of an amendment can be done via a two-thirds vote of Congress and then ratification by three-fourths of the state legislatures.
Proponents of the convention have said that Congress would never agree to check its own power by passing term limits or spending restrictions.



“The Framers saw this as a significant power that they were giving to the states,” said Republican Sen. Chip Campsen of the Isle of Palms. “I don’t want to unilaterally disarm and throw away that power and say we’ll never use it.”
Dozens of supporters, many wearing red, white and blue, filled the Statehouse lobby outside the Senate chamber on the first day of debate on Tuesday, applauding arguments they agreed with and booing suggestions that the convention might spiral out of control. There was even a person dressed as Uncle Sam.
Just before the late Wednesday afternoon vote, Sen. Marlon Kimpson suggested a change he knew would fail, adding reparations for slavery to the topics to be discussed.
The black Charleston Democrat said if his change passes, he believes the extra money and resources should be used to help poorer public schools and historically black colleges and universities, by providing guaranteed loans to businesses in disadvantaged neighborhoods and other aid.
“I’m not talking about 40 acres and a mule, although I don’t dismiss the idea,” Kimpson said.
Most white Democrats supported their black party members and voted against the bill. Senator Dick Harpootlian said it was dangerous to agree to a convention without knowing who the delegates would be and how many people would attend.
The Columbia Democrat suggested that minority groups and others without much power could be excluded.
“This constitutional convention, I fear, will be just as white as that of 1787 – perhaps whiter,” Harpootlian said.



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Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSColinsAP.