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Howell proposes "Repeal Amendment" in WSJ column
House speaker Bill Howell co-authors op-ed for Wall Street Journal, proposing to allow states to overturn federal laws.

Date published: 9/16/2010

By Chelyen Davis
The Free Lance-Star

The idea that the federal government has overstepped its constitutional powers has been a popular one in recent months. Now House Speaker Bill Howell is proposing a solution: allowing states to repeal federal laws.

In a column published Thursday in the Wall Street Journal, Howell, R-Stafford, and Georgetown University law professor Randy Barnett propose what they’re calling the “Repeal Amendment.”

Their amendment would allow states to overturn federal laws if two-thirds of states, or 34, vote to do so.

Howell plans to have a resolution supporting the proposal introduced in the General Assembly’s 2011 session, and he’s working to get other states on board as well.

“It’s just trying to restore, basically, some of the balance of power between the federal government and the states, which has been dramatically eroded over the past century,” Howell said in an interview. “No one can deny that there hasn’t been a very significant erosion in the balance between states and the federal government … This hopefully would be restoration of some of those powers that have been taken away.”

In their column, Howell and Barnett said several factors have contributed to the bloating of federal government and its powers. They said the federal income tax, instituted early in the 20th century, gave the federal government a way to bribe states, by attaching strings to federal money given to states.

They also said the direct election of senators by voters took away a tool by which states could limit federal power (previously, state legislatures chose senators).

Howell said that many groups are working on other proposals to limit federal power or amend the constitution, but he thinks this idea is the broadest.

“We think this offers one solution,” Howell said. “This offers a check on federal powers.”

He has been talking to leaders in other states to get them on board.

“We’re working on it, this is a new idea,” Howell said. “We’re trying to get a broad coalition behind it.”

There’s no guarantee it will pass in Virginia, especially through the Democrat-led state Senate. Howell said he hopes Democrats will give it a chance.

“This is not a Republican or a Democrat idea, this is restoring power. I believe the most liberal Democrat in the House or Senate would be just as enthusiastic about this idea,” Howell said.

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