Federalism-Summit Proposals

MEMBERS of five major organizations representing state officials met in Cincinnati last week and proposed four ideas to redress what they see as the imbalance between the federal and state governments. Over the next two days, the Monitor will take a look at the pros and cons of these proposals. Today: proposals 1 and 2.

The ''States' Federalism Summit'' acknowledged the federal government's constitutional powers ''to provide for the national defense, to conduct foreign policy, and to ensure the civil and constitutional rights of our citizens.''

Proposal 1: ''A federalism act to enhance the political safeguards of federalism and give states a more effective voice in congressional deliberations.''

A federalism law would require Congress to provide a constitutional basis for specific legislation. It would also require Congress to justify setting aside state laws in areas supposedly protected by the 10th Amendment. Congress would be obligated to consider whether state statutes might not provide a better solution to the problem in question. And federal agencies would need specific congressional authorization to preempt state legislation.

Arguments in favor: Congress would have to consider the appropriate use of federal power when it approves new laws. Bills that did not provide a constitutional justification could not be considered. This proposal would be less controversial than the others, as it would require no constitutional amendment. This year's bill to ban new unfunded federal mandates on states is a model for such a law.

Arguments against: A federalism act would not create rights that could be enforced in court, and future sessions of Congress could simply ignore or repeal it. Or Congress might simply write ''boilerplate'' language that would be attached to each law. Federalism debates could become smoke screens to defeat bills without a debate on their merits, thus fueling further public anger with Congress. And it would be very difficult for Congress to identify every state law that might be preempted by federal action.

Proposal 2: ''A mechanism to provide the people of the states, through their legislatures, the power to require Congress to reconsider laws, specific provisions of laws, or regulations that interfere with state authority.''

This would probably take a constitutional amendment, although not all supporters agree. One version would provide that if two-thirds of the states object to a federal law or regulation within a five-year period, Congress must reenact the law after an intervening election. Other versions would require that three-fourths of the states disapprove a bill, or that the two-thirds of states disapproving must include states with a majority of presidential electoral votes.

Arguments in favor: This would empower states against the most egregious federal laws and regulations that preempt state authority. It would also be a safety valve in cases where Congress has reacted to special interests in lieu of the broad national interest. And it would restore to state legislatures some of the accountability they lost with the change to direct popular election of United States senators in 1913.

Arguments against: This proposal could bog down state legislatures, which already have a full plate, with constitutional debates on all kinds of national policy issues, including those that having nothing to do with federal-state relations. It would clutter Congress's agenda with many issues long settled by federal law. By adding uncertainty to enacted laws, it could erode respect for their enforcement. It could heighten tension between regions and states or create conflicts between large and small states. And as a constitutional amendment, it would be very difficult to pass.

* Part 2 of a three-part series. Part 1 ran yesterday; Part 3 will run tomorrow.

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