The adjournment resolution, SJR 692, provides that bills “proposing an amendment or amendments to the North Carolina Constitution and containing no other matter” and bills “proposing an amendment or amendments to the North Carolina Constitution and containing no other matter other than statutory conforming changes to implement such bills” may be heard when the legislature comes back into session on October 4. The conventional political wisdom is that the legislature will take up constitutional amendments during its upcoming October session that are likely to bring voters to the polls in November, 2018 — particularly Republican voters — since Republicans are in the majority in both chambers and can control what gets taken up.
Unlike most legislation, bills proposing constitutional amendments are not subject to a gubernatorial veto. Thus, Governor Cooper wouldn’t have any role in putting any constitutional amendment on the ballot. If a bill providing for a constitutional amendment passes both chambers by a three-fifths vote, then a majority of voters can decide whether to adopt it.
While new bills could be filed providing for constitutional amendments, there were sixteen constitutional amendments proposed during the Long Session. Assuming the legislature takes up constitutional amendments during its upcoming October session, some of these are likely to be considered and some will clearly not.
Four bills proposing constitutional amendments passed one of the two chambers during the Long Session. As it has in past years, the House passed a bill to limit the use of eminent domain to condemn property by state and local governments and public utilities. House Bill 3 [Eminent Domain] is a bill that I filed, and it cleared the House with strong, bipartisan support. Since the Senate included this constitutional amendment in a bill that it passed last year, the bill has a good shot at being considered by the Senate.
The House also passed HB551 [Strengthening Victims’ Rights] with strong, bipartisan support. The bill would clarify and expand the rights of crime victims with the most important right being the right to be heard involving a plea, sentencing, parole or release of a criminal defendant. Another House bill, HB105 [Const. Amendment-Limit Governor/LG to 2 Terms], passed with bipartisan support, albeit not as strong as the other two bills. As the title suggests, it would limit the Governor and Lieutenant Governor to two terms. With bipartisan support, these three bills would not be particularly heavy lifts in the October session.
The Senate passed Senate Bill 75 [Const. Amd.-Max. Income Tax Rate of 5.5%], a bill to cap the tax on both personal and corporate incomes at 5.5%. The cap is currently 10%. SB75 passed largely on a party-line vote, and the vote on this amendment could be close in the House if all Democratic Members oppose the amendment, since a three-fifths vote is required on constitutional amendments and Republicans constitute just over three-fifths of the chamber.
In 2016, the Senate passed a constitutional amendment relating to the right to fish and hunt as part of an omnibus constitutional amendments bill, so one would expect that SB677 [Protect Right to Hunt and Fish] could pass the Senate with the requisite majority. My expectation is that SB677 would pass the House with more than a three-fifths vote if it is brought up.
Another constitutional amendment that is viewed quite positively by many Republican legislators is an amendment, SB632 [Protect NC Right to Work Constitutional Amend.], to protect the right of North Carolinians to be employed without being required to join a labor union. By law, North Carolina is already a right-to-work state, but many feel that this should be enshrined in the state constitution.
While no bill has been filed, there is speculation that the legislature may put a Voter ID constitutional amendment on the ballot. Requiring a Voter ID has consistently received strong support in various polling regarding the subject. With a federal court striking down North Carolina’s earlier attempt to enact a photo voter identification requirement, the legislature might try passing a constitutional amendment as a way to address the issue.
There are some proposed constitutional amendments that clearly wouldn’t be heard. The legislature has no appetite for passing any redistricting amendments [HB674 or HB735], and any constitutional amendment dealing with marijuana [HB185] wouldn’t have enough support. Having failed to move an omnibus gun bill this year, one has to question whether there is sufficient support for any constitutional amendments dealing with guns [HB145].
While there are several proposed constitutional amendments dealing with legislative terms or the length of legislative sessions, those bills [HB193, HB413, and HB682] aren’t viewed as having broad public support. Similarly, the fight over the roles of the State Board of Education and the Superintendent of Public Instruction has just been decided by the courts, so there is no talk of taking up a constitutional amendment to elect the State Board of Education, HB133.
That leaves only HB727 [Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights], a proposed constitutional amendment that would limit the growth of state spending. While this sort of proposal has been discussed in past years, such a constitutional amendment could bring Democrats to the polls to vote against the amendment. With Republicans passing budgets that have limited the growth of state spending, there doesn’t seem to be a groundswell of support for this proposed constitutional amendment.
One can expect a range of partisan constitutional amendment bills will be filed. However, the only way to get the requisite three-fifths vote for passage of a constitutional amendment is to get most Republicans supporting the proposal since Democrats don’t constitute three-fifths of either chamber. In other words, constitutional amendments proposed by Republican Members could pass, but only if they garner overwhelming Republican support or gain bipartisan support.