Darrell Berkheimer: ‘28th Amendment’ rumors are fake news
I can find plenty of reasons to criticize our U.S. Congress without resorting to fake news. But the false rumors about a proposed 28th amendment are a part of the latest fake news — circulating now in Nevada County.
First, for those who may have heard otherwise, there is no 28th Amendment to our U.S. Constitution. But a 28th amendment has been proposed numerous times — even once in Congress. Only the supporting arguments for the proposed 28th amendment are false — “pants-on-fire” false.
The proposed amendment states: “Congress shall make no law that applies to the citizens of the United States that does not apply equally to the Senators and Representatives; and, Congress shall make no law that applies to the Senators and Representatives that does not apply equally to the citizens of the United States.”
According to Politifact.com, 28th amendment proposals — and various falsehoods related to it — have been circulating in one form or another since at least 2000. And this year it also surfaced in a modified form as the “Congressional Reform Act of 2017.”
The false claims include a rumor that billionaire Warren Buffett is asking people to forward an email citing the reasons the act should be adopted. Snopes, however, reports Buffett is not involved with any such email.
A friend who has been reading my columns on needed congressional reforms, recently sent to me a copy of a 28th amendment email. So it is being circulated locally, with each copy asking the receiver to send it to 20 others. Here are claims listed in that copy — all false according to Snopes, Politifact and FactCheck. To emphasize that fact, I add “False” at the end of each listing.
Children of Congress members do not have to pay back their college student loans. False!
Staffers of Congress family members also are exempt from re-paying college loans. False!
Members of Congress can retire at full pay after only one term. False! (Since 1984 Congress members pay into Social Security. Prior to 1984, they participated in a separate retirement system that was closed to government workers hired after 1983.)
Congress has exempted its members from the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). False!
Members of Congress are exempt from prosecution for sexual harassment. False!
Governors of 35 states have filed suit against the federal government for imposing unlawful burdens upon their states. False! (But some states filed suit against parts of Obamacare.)
Members of Congress have exempted themselves from many of the laws they have passed under which ordinary citizens must live. False! (But Congress has exempt its members from seven regulations that mostly apply to their roles as employers of their staff.)
Only one Congress exemption is listed in our Constitution. Article 1, Section 6 protects legislators from arrest or other executive branch abuses, but only when Congress is in session.
The seven exemptions adopted by Congress are:
Exemption from protections against retaliation for whistleblowers. (Legislative branch workers do not receive that protection.)
Exemption from investigatory subpoenas to obtain information for safety and health probes.
From having to post notices of worker rights in offices.
From prosecution for retaliating against employees who report safety and health hazards.
From having to train employees about workplace rights and legal remedies.
From record-keep requirements for workplace injuries and illnesses.
And from responding to Freedom of Information Act requests.
I can understand why Congress members should be exempt from Freedom of Information Act requests. And I can foresee some potential reasons for withholding whistleblower protection from legislative workers. But it does not make sense to me why Congress members are exempt from providing the same workplace rights and information that other employers are required to provide.
Legislative worker complaints about retaliation, intimidation, discrimination and harassment have increased in recent years – and perhaps more could or should be filed, according to Debra Katz, a Washington lawyer who specializes in employment and whistleblower laws. She noted U.S. House and Senate workers often are reluctant to tell about harassment or discrimination for fear of jeopardizing their careers.
It appears congressional reforms should eliminate those workplace exemptions in order to provide standard protections for legislative staff workers.
And certain exemptions have been cited as particularly problematic by the federal Office of Compliance. Barbara J. Sapin, executive director, reported the inability to subpoena information about some workers’ health and safety complaints often necessitates negotiating with congressional offices to gather the needed facts.
Amending the Constitution
But to return to the constitutional amendments issue, only two specific procedures are provided for amending our U.S. Constitution. The one method requires two-thirds of the states’ legislatures to call for a constitutional convention at which new amendments may be proposed — subject to ratification by three-fourths of the states. That allows for approval of amendments by the states alone — eliminating Congress from the procedure. But not once have the states ever called such a convention.
The other method, which was used to enact all 27 amendments, requires two-thirds majority votes in both houses of Congress, plus final ratification by three-fourths of the states. Obviously, obtaining such super-majorities is not easy.
But regardless of the difficulty, one or more amendments will be needed to establish term limits, lengthen the terms of representatives to four years and establish a line-item veto for the president. Additional amendments might be needed to negate the Citizens United ruling on campaign financing disclosures and limits, and to end gerrymandering — if Congress fails to pass those needed reform measures.
Various polls and surveys have shown that all of those issues are favored by as many as 65 to 80 percent of our voters.
(The next article in this series will discuss the line item veto and campaign financing. See this story at TheUnion.com to read the full series.)
Darrell Berkheimer, who lives in Grass Valley, is a frequent contributor to The Union. He is the author of five books available through Amazon. Contact him at email@example.com.
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