At the end of the Short Session in late June, the General Assembly passed several bills that placed six constitutional amendments on the ballot for a vote in the upcoming November election. Unlike other legislation, proposed constitutional amendments do not require the approval of the governor; therefore, Governor Cooper didn’t play a role in proposing the amendments.
While proposed constitutional amendments periodically are on the ballot, six is the most to be considered at one time in recent history. Given the range of topics and number of amendments, I was disappointed my constitutional amendment bill, House Bill 3 [Eminent Domain], which passed the House with broad bipartisan support, was not considered by the Senate.
To be placed on the ballot, constitutional amendments require three-fifths votes by each legislative chamber, which means 72 votes in the House and 30 in the Senate. Following the passage of the amendments, two of the original proposed constitutional amendments were successfully challenged in court; therefore, the legislature came back and changed those amendments to conform with the court decision. The two revised amendments were subsequently deemed to be in proper form.
Disagreements ensued over how the amendments would be described on the ballot by the Constitutional Amendments Publication Commission, which is comprised of the Legislative Services Officer Paul Coble (R), Attorney General Josh Stein (D), and Secretary of State Elaine Marshall (D). The legislature cut short arguments by simply requiring each amendment to be entitled “Constitutional Amendment.”
Except for the income tax cap amendment, none of the proposed amendments have implementing language. For example, if voters adopt the Voter ID amendment requiring a photo ID to vote, the legislature will have to pass legislation determining what constitutes a valid photo ID. Anticipating that one or more of the amendments will pass, the legislature has already scheduled a session after Thanksgiving to consider implementing legislation for any amendments that receive voter approval.
I voted on whether to put the amendments on the ballot, and I originally voted against putting one of the amendments on the ballot, HB913 [Bipartisan Ethics and Elections Enforcement], essentially for the reasons a court subsequently determined to strike the amendment. When that amendment was revised consistent with the court’s decision, I changed my vote to put a replacement amendment on the ballot.
While some of my colleagues probably view their votes as indicating support or opposition to each amendment, my votes only reflect whether I thought the amendments were appropriate for voter consideration. In responding to constituent communications, I’ve shared my thoughts on the amendments and have promised to summarize my thoughts on each one. If you want another take on the amendments, you might read Longleaf Politics’ 6 N.C. Constitutional Amendments You will Vote on in 2018 Explained.
So here is what I think.
SB75 [Const. Amd. – Max Income Tax Rate of 7.0%] lowers the current constitutional maximum income tax rate of 10% to 7%. Currently North Carolina has a flat income tax rate of 5.499%, which will be decreasing to 5.25% for the next tax cycle.
While I am generally against enshrining arbitrary limits in the state constitution, there is already a 10% cap in the state constitution. The original bill proposed a 5.5% tax cap, which many of my colleagues and I believed was too restrictive. The bill was amended to a more moderate 7% maximum rate. With this change, supporters argue it will allow the state flexibility to deal with unforeseen financial challenges, while ensuring that North Carolina maintains a low tax rate. The House passed the proposed amendment by a vote of 73-45, and the Senate passed the amendment by a 34-13 vote, largely along partisan lines.
My view: If voters think a tax cap is needed, then they can put the cap in the constitution, but I don’t like these sort of provisions. I’m not voting for it.
HB1092 [Const. Amendment – Require Photo ID to Vote] requires voters to provide photo identification before voting in person. I voted to put this on the ballot because I believe the only way to require a voter ID is by a constitutional amendment since a federal court having jurisdiction over North Carolina seems to feel any restriction is racially motivated.
The majority of states require a voter ID. H 1092 passed the House by a vote of 74-43 and 33-12 in the Senate.
My view: I support this amendment. Picture IDs are required for all sorts of daily activities, and they will have to be provided free-of-charge by the state. I don’t believe requiring a voter ID is discriminatory.
HB551 [Strengthening Victims’ Rights] (also known as Marsy’s Law) is an amendment that ensures victims of violent crimes receive certain enumerated rights such as being allowed to be present at court proceedings of the accused. While there are already several victims rights laws on the books, the bill sponsor wanted to ensure that these rights are constitutionally protected rights and make their enforcement uniform throughout the state. I voted in favor of H551, which was the most widely supported amendment with a vote of 107-9 in the House and 45-1 in the Senate.
My view: If voters feel that there is a need to explicitly recognize victims’ rights in the constitution, they should support the amendment. The amendment will not really change North Carolina law; in other words, it is not strictly needed. I’ll likely vote for it.
SB677 [Protect Right to Hunt and Fish] would constitutionally ensure that North Carolinians have a right to use traditional methods to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife, subject only to certain limitations promoting wildlife conservation and resource management. I voted to put this proposed amendment on the ballot, although one may question why we need to put this in the constitution when no one seems to be trying to stop or thwart hunting of fishing in North Carolina. More than twenty other states have a similar measure in their state’s constitution, so this amendment isn’t uncommon. S 677 passed the House 92-23 and passed the Senate 41-6.
My view: Like with Marsy’s Law, this is simply a question of whether one feels hunting and fishing rights should be enshrined in the state constitution. I’m ambivalent about including it in the text of the constitution.
HB3 [Nonpartisan Judicial Merit Amendment] would put forward a new process to fill vacant judicial seats, which are currently filled unilaterally by the Governor. S 814 does not affect the current process for regular judicial elections. If approved by the voters, this amendment would allow citizens to nominate their fellow citizens for any judicial vacancy, nominees would then be evaluated by a nonpartisan commission. The General Assembly would review qualified nominees and advance at least two names to the Governor who would appoint one of the nominated persons within 10 days.
I voted in support of S 814 because I’m familiar with cases of governors leaving office appointing judges in the last hours of their terms. I am concerned that the General Assembly has not passed implementing language that would give greater detail and assurance as to how this process would take place. S 814 passed the House by a vote of 73-45 and by a vote of 34-13 in the Senate.
My view: Elections have consequences, and our constitution gives governors the power to make appointments. While I’m not sure that there is a huge problem with gubernatorial appointment of judges supporting a need for the amendment, I do like the idea of merit selection of judges. However, my inclination is to vote against this particular amendment.
HB4 [Bipartisan Ethics and Elections enforcement] This amendment would establish a Bipartisan State Board of Ethics and Elections Enforcement. The new board would be modeled after the Federal Elections Commission s by providing for an 8-member board appointed by legislative leaders, with the aim of removing partisanship from the oversight of elections. No more than 4 members could be from the same political party. I was the only Republican to vote against this amendment in its original form, H 913, but I supported putting the amendment on the ballot when it was changed in response to a judicial decision. It passed the House by a vote of 73-33 and 32-14 in the Senate.
My view: Historically, the governor appointed the nine person board with the majority coming from the governor’s political party. For a long time, this system seemed to work. I didn’t feel strongly about the amendment until the current state election board overruled Henderson County’s own election board by adding Sunday voting and also ousting one party’s appointment to the county election board in favor of another appointment. Since hyper-partisanship is now evident on the state election board, I’m supporting this amendment with hopes that an evenly divided board would have to learn how to work together.
With so many constitutional amendments on the ballot, it is important you get out to vote this upcoming election cycle.