The Leaflet: American Independence and Constitutional Reform

Published July 7, 2016

Even as residue from empty bottle rockets and the remains of millions of firecrackers are cleaned off of America’s streets, people across the country continue to celebrate the United States’ independence from the British Empire. Brooke Rollins, president and CEO of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, eloquently described the holiday, stating, “Two hundred forty years ago, on July 4th, 1776, everything changed. The fight for liberty did not end that day. It did not even end when that revolution did. It continues today – and it will continue as long as man, created in liberty, is on this earth.”

In a recent Heartlander article, Richard M. Ebeling, the BB&T distinguished professor of ethics and free enterprise leadership at The Citadel, discussed the grievances made by America’s Founding Fathers against intrusive British government control, stating, “But what is usually not recalled is the long list of enumerated grievances that make up most of the text of the Declaration of Independence. The Founding Fathers explained how intolerable an absolutist and highly centralized government in faraway London had become. This distant government violated the personal and civil liberties of the people living in the 13 colonies on the eastern seaboard of North America.”

As Rollins and Ebeling properly acknowledge, the struggle for liberty continues today in countries across the world and in innumerable communities that yearn to attain the same independence and freedom imbedded in the ethos of the United States. While some may think the fight for liberty in the United States ended two centuries ago, millions of Americans, thousands of state legislators, and countless other proponents of liberty, including The Heartland Institute, continue to fight a similar a battle – also against an overreaching centralized power, the Washington, DC bureaucratic machine.

In response to the federal government’s irresponsible spending, burdensome regulations, and assault on personal liberties, many states are attempting to add significant protections for liberty by establishing an Article V convention.

Tom Lindsay, director of the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Center for Tenth Amendment Action, discussed states’ power under Article V of the U.S. Constitution to call for amendments in a recent Forbes article: “Under Article V, it takes two-thirds of the states (34) to propose a convention and three-fourths of the states (38) to ratify any proposed amendments.”

Lindsay also mentioned Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s (R) plan for a convention of states, which would propose amendments to rein in the federal government. “Since the governor announced the Plan, three more state legislatures – in Tennessee, Indiana, and Oklahoma – have joined. Alaska, Georgia, Alabama, and Florida already have approved the Convention of States Project’s proposed resolutions.”

During legislative sessions this year, 88 proposals related to reform of the U.S. Constitution were introduced in 39 states, and eight states fully enacted constitutional reform legislation. To date, 32 states have enacted at least one form of constitutional reform legislation.

As constitutional scholar Rob Natelson notes in a Heartland Policy Brief, those proactive state legislatures weren’t merely exercising a constitutional option: They were performing a solemn duty. He writes, “State officials take an oath to preserve the U.S. Constitution. [James] Madison and other Founders … emphasized state officials’ obligation to interpose in a constitutional manner when the people are threatened by federal overreaching. Such interposition is not a mere option. It is a solemn duty.”

A “solemn duty” indeed, and one that may very well be the best opportunity to reestablish fiscal sanity in Washington, DC.

What We’re Working On

Register Today for Heartland’s 2016 Emerging Issues Forums!
The Heartland Institute is hosting two Emerging Issues Forums in 2016. The first will be held in Chicago, Illinois on August 7–8, immediately before the National Conference of State Legislature’s Legislative Summit. The second will be held in Orlando, Florida on December 15–17. The Emerging Issues Forum brings together elected officials, policy analysts, and government affairs professionals from across the country. You will hear from leading free-market experts as we explore innovative solutions to the top public policy issues that will face the states in 2017 and beyond. Registration to the event is free for elected officials, spouses, and legislative staff, and travel scholarships are available. Register today!

Budget & Tax
Research & Commentary: New ‘High Income’ Tax Would Make Maine Less Competitive
Maine voters will soon consider a ballot initiative that would create a 3 percent tax on individuals’ taxable income above $200,000. The new revenue would be used create a state fund that would provide direct support for K–12 public education. In this Research & Commentary, Heartland Senior Policy Analyst Matthew Glans argues increasing funding for education is not the only path states can take to improve the cost of education and educational outcomes. “Maine should embrace educational choice and allow education tax dollars to follow each child. Educational choice would give Maine families open and equal access to the high-quality schools that more closely fit their needs – all at a lower cost. The competition created in a choice-oriented system improves spending and education outcomes across the board, which should be the end goal of any education policy.” Read more

Research & Commentary: Delaware Education Savings Account Bill
State lawmakers in Delaware considered and then tabled a proposal that would have created the Parent Empowerment Education Savings Account Program. This program would have provided to children with special needs and disabilities an education savings account (ESA) that could have been used to help pay for educational options that may better suit their individual needs. The proposal would have provided parents with up to 100 percent of the per-pupil state funds that ordinarily go to the child’s public school district. The funds would have been available to use to help cover the cost of tuition and fees at any private school participating in the program, as well as for textbooks, tutors, and online learning programs. Any leftover funds would have been saved and made available to help pay for college tuition. In this Research & Commentary, Policy Analyst Tim Benson says while providing ESAs for students with special needs would have been a great step forward for Delaware, the passage of a universal ESA bill would be ideal and would go a long way toward remedying the state’s lackluster record of adequately educating its children. Read more

Energy & Environment
Research & Commentary: Michigan Renewable Energy Mandate and Net-Metering Reform
When the Michigan State Senate returns from its summer break, a proposal to overhaul portions of Michigan’s Clean, Renewable, and Efficient Energy Act will be waiting for them. The proposal would repeal the state’s renewable energy standard and amend the state’s net-metering program. Current law states 10 percent of the energy provided by Michigan electricity providers must come from renewable-energy sources. Under the proposal, the mandatory requirement would be replaced by a soft “goal” that would aim to make 35 percent of the state’s energy needs be supplied by renewable-energy sources by 2025. The proposal would also replace Michigan’s net-metering program with a distributed-generation program, in which owners of solar panels would continue to pay the full retail price for their electricity and would receive only the wholesale price for electricity they put back on the grid. In this Research & Commentary, Policy Analyst Tim Benson says the best policy option is to repeal all renewable portfolio standards (RPS), net metering, and energy subsidies. A second-best alternative would be for Michigan to continue to roll back or freeze the state’s RPS mandates at current levels and align net-metering rates with the wholesale price of electricity. Read more

Health Care
Research & Commentary: Kentucky Medicaid Expansion Deserves Repeal or Reform
In 2013, Kentucky became one of 32 states that chose to expand its Medicaid program under the federal Affordable Care Act. Then-Gov. Steve Beshear (D) unilaterally implemented Medicaid expansion without the approval of the General Assembly. In late June, newly elected Gov. Matt Bevin (R) introduced an alternative to the state’s current Medicaid plan, which would impose premiums on recipients and give patients ownership over their health care. In this Research & Commentary, Senior Policy Analyst Matthew Glans examines Bevin’s efforts to modify Kentucky’s Medicaid system. Glans says while full repeal is the best course, Bevin’s reforms are all positive steps that Kentucky legislators should seriously consider. Read more

From Our Free-Market Friends
Over 100 Nobel Laureates Condemn Greenpeace for Opposing Golden Rice
Numerous policy experts, lawmakers, doctors, human rights advocates, and scientists say Golden Rice, a vitamin-fortified product, is desperately needed by millions of poor children around the world. Unfortunately, many environmentalist groups, including Greenpeace, are opposed to it and other similar products – a position Sir Richard Roberts, a Nobel laureate, calls a “crime against humanity.” Golden Rice is the name of a rice product created by scientists who successfully added to organic rice three genes for producing beta carotene, a Vitamin A precursor, to the 30,000 already present. This slight adjustment, as amazing as it may seem, makes Golden Rice an important tool that can be used to battle Vitamin A deficiency. In this article by Hank Campbell, the American Council on Science and Health’s president, the author explains the importance of the creation of Golden Rice, as well as the damage groups such as Greenpeace do by opposing it: “Obviously this is a good thing in countries where Vitamin A deficiency is common. Regardless, organizations like Greenpeace and Union of Concerned Scientists have labeled it ‘Frankenfood.’ In the time these groups have helped block its approval, nearly 20 million children have died and another 20 million have suffered preventable blindness.”