Kansas senate votes down resolution

Fear of rogue convention deters Kansas Senate from aiding crusade to alter U.S. Constitution. The senate voted down a resolution calling for a convention of states on term limits for Congress.



March 29, 2024 - 3:02 PM

Sen. Tim Shallenburger, a Republican from Baxter Springs, said the Kansas Legislature had no business supporting a U.S. constitutional convention to debate congressional term limits until the Legislature applied the same political-service restraints on themselves. Photo by Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector

TOPEKA — The Kansas Senate failed to pull together a two-thirds majority supportive of a national convention of states to consider an amendment to the U.S. Constitution establishing term limits for members of the U.S. House and U.S. Senate.

Six states have advanced a constitutional proposition on congressional term limits, which was below the 34 states necessary to call a convention and the 38 states required to attach an amendment to the national constitution. Objections centered on potential of a runaway convention that would dabble in all sorts of issues, but some opponents argued the Legislature should adopt term limits before meddling with Congress.

“It’s another case of we don’t like what other people do, but we don’t have the guts to do it to ourselves,” said Sen. Tim Shallenburger, a Republican from Baxter Springs who voted against the resolution.

Shallenburger, who was in the Kansas House from 1987 to 1998 and was appointed last year to the Senate, said that if reelected in November he would file a bill in 2025 calling for term limits on members of the state House and Senate. In Missouri, politicians can be elected to a maximum of four two-year terms in the House and elected to two four-year terms in the Senate.

Sen. Mike Thompson, R-Shawnee, urged colleagues to rally in favor of the resolution. On Wednesday, the Senate answered Thompson by voting 24-15 vote in favor of the resolution, but that didn’t meet the two-thirds majority required for passage. Six Republicans and nine Democrats voted against the measure.

A comparable convention resolution considered last legislative session by the Kansas House also failed to meet the state’s constitutional minimum of a two-thirds majority. In March 2023, the House vote was 69-54 in favor of a convention.

Thompson disputed the notion “that you’re going to have a runaway convention and its going to come out with all these different changes to the U.S. Constitution.”

However, Thompson said a constitutional convention ought to be convened to require a balanced federal budget given excessive spending of the “deep state” in Washington, D.C., and the rising national debt. Nineteen states, but not Kansas, have embraced the call for a constitutional convention to “limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government, impose fiscal restraints, and place term limits on federal officials.”

Delegate selection

Sen. Dennis Pyle, a Hiawatha Republican who had supported the concept of a convention of states in the past, said he couldn’t vote for the congressional term limits resolution until firm ground rules were in place regarding Kansas’ participation.

He said that once the convention was in motion the delegates would have authority to amend the rules and the agenda, because “they can do whatever they want.” He said a significant problem with the Kansas Senate resolution was that it didn’t establish who would select the state’s delegates. He’s suggested the 40-member Senate could serve as the state’s delegation to a convention or the state’s governor could be responsible for appointing delegates.

Pyle said there appeared to be a good reason the U.S. Constitution had been amended 27 times, but never by the convention-of-states method.

Sen. Rob Olson, R-Olson, offered a motion to send Senate Concurrent Resolution 1609 back to a Senate committee for additional consideration. That failed 16-22.

“Looking back over my political career, I wish we had had term limits,” said Olson, who won’t seek reelection after 20 years in the Senate and House. “I think one person can spend too much time in one body.”

Democratic Sen. Tom Holland, a Baldwin City lawmaker for 22 years who also decided not to seek reelection, said he was concerned term limits would strengthen the grip of special-interest organizations over the legislative process. He said Kansas voters should determine at the ballot box who served in the Legislature rather than adhere to arbitrary time limits.