The Raleigh Report from Rep. Susan Fisher July 5, 2018
Rep. Susan Fisher Buncombe County District 114 firstname.lastname@example.org
Last week’s adjournment of the General Assembly was dominated by debate over constitutional amendments and appointments to key government positions. Now we enter a long break where the focus will shift away from legislative activity to campaigns and the November elections.
After the election, the General Assembly will return on November 27 for an additional session. Any issue may be taken up during this session. If the elections result in enough Democrats winning to sustain the Governor’s veto, the November 27 session allows the Republicans one more opportunity to pass bills while having enough votes to override a veto.
Six Constitutional Amendments
Amending the constitution is not easy. 3/5 of legislators must approve an issue to put it to you, the voters. The Governor cannot veto these bills.
- In the last 20 years, North Carolina has voted on 7 constitutional amendments.
- In November 2018, voters will vote on 6 constitutional amendments.
Why the sudden increase in constitutional amendments? I see two reasons. The first is Republicans are worried about losing in November and want to “lock in” their policies by enshrining them in the constitution. The second is Republicans want to improve their election chances by putting on the ballot, amendments that give motive to their party to go vote.
What are the six amendments about? Here is a brief explanation of each, in the order they will appear on the ballot.
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Hunting and Fishing (amendment #1)
If voters agree, the NC constitution will include a section declaring that a person’s right to hunt and fish shall be “forever preserved,” but still subject to laws passed “to promote wildlife conservation and management and preserve the future of hunting and fishing.” Proponents of the measure argue that hunting and fishing is such an important part of North Carolina’s heritage that it must be protected. Opponents respond that this amendment does nothing to help hunting and fishing and puts at risk animal cruelty protections. The exact language voters will see on the ballot is: “Constitutional amendment protecting the right of the people to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife.” You can read SB 677 here.
Victims’ Rights (amendment #2)
If voters agree, the NC constitution will include additional language protecting the rights of crime victims. Supporters of this idea argue that victims’ rights are so important that additional protections are needed. Opponents point out the NC constitution already includes extensive victim rights protections and these new rights could lead to higher costs and legal delays. The exact language voters will see on the ballot is: “Constitutional amendment to strengthen protections for victims of crime; to establish certain absolute basic rights for victims; and to ensure the enforcement of these rights.” You can read HB 551 here for more detail.
Shift Power from Governor to General Assembly and Create Divided Elections Board (amendment #3)
This amendment really does two very different things. First, it takes away from Governor Cooper, and all subsequent governors of North Carolina, the authority to appoint private citizens and others who may have expertise in a particular area, to state boards and commissions and gives that power to the General Assembly. It’s a power grab. The second part of the amendment creates an eight-member elections and ethics board (currently, there are nine) and divides them evenly between the two major parties (Unaffiliated voters and smaller parties are left out). Legislative leaders would appoint all of the members and the Governor would have zero appointments. Voters will see highly misleading language on their ballots: “Constitutional amendment to establish a bipartisan Board of Ethics and Elections to administer ethics and election laws, to clarify the appointment authority of the Legislative and the Judicial Branches, and to prohibit legislators from serving on boards and commissions exercising executive or judicial authority.” This amendment is a power grab, designed to make the General Assembly far more powerful than the Governor or the courts. You can read HB 913 here.
Legislative Selection of Judges to Fill Judicial Vacancies (amendment #4)
Voters elect judges. But what happens when a judge resigns, retires, or dies in office? Currently, the Governor appoints the replacement who serves until the next general election when the voters elect a replacement. This has been in the constitution for decades. This amendment will change that process to give the General Assembly most of the power to fill vacant judgeships. The amendment gives the General Assembly authority to create a commission that will rate all interested judicial applicants as “qualified” or “not qualified.” All of the “qualified” names will go to legislators who will narrow the choices to two names and send those to the Governor to pick one of those two. So the General Assembly gets the critical job of narrowing a large field to two candidates, while the Governor and the commission do relatively little. The amendment will also delay by two years the voters’ opportunity to vote on a judgeship. Currently, a vacancy appointment serves until the next election. This amendment would allow a vacancy appointment to serve until the next election after the next election (i.e. an extra two years). Again, voters will see on their ballots a highly misleading description of what is really legislative selection of judges: “Constitutional amendment to implement a nonpartisan merit-based system that relies on professional qualifications instead of political influence when nominating Justices and judges to be selected to fill vacancies that occur between judicial elections.” You can read SB 814 here.
Income Tax Cap (amendment #5)
The NC Constitution caps the income tax at 10% for people and corporations. The 2019 personal income tax rate is at 5.25% and the corporate income tax rate is at 2.5%. The constitutional amendment on the ballot will lower the maximum rate to 7%. November’s vote will not lower your taxes, just limit the amount the income tax rate can rise in the future. What does this mean? It means future legislatures will have limited options to fund public schools and other services and that property taxes, fees, and sales taxes will likely go higher given the lower income tax cap. The language on the ballot will read: “Constitutional amendment to reduce the income tax rate in North Carolina to a maximum allowable rate of seven percent (7%).” You can read SB 75 here.
You’ll be voting on a ‘max tax’ this November
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Could keeping the income tax rate from going higher hurt NC’s public schools?
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Put Photo Voter ID in Constitution (amendment #6)
HB 1092 amends the North Carolina Constitution to require every voter to show a photo ID. The details are left to legislators to figure out later. It’s a basically a blank check to the same legislative leaders who have passed racially discriminatory gerrymandering and voter suppression laws that the courts have found unconstitutional.
Why is putting a photo ID requirement in the constitution a bad idea?
- We know there are North Carolina citizens who do not have such an ID. They are typically among our youngest, oldest and poorest citizens. Why should they not be allowed to vote?
- Other states that have done this have found that turnout dropped.
- A 2017 NC State Board of Elections audit found that a voter identification law would have stopped one fraudulent vote out of nearly 3 million cast.
The amendment language that voters will see on the ballot will say: “Constitutional amendment to require voters to provide photo identification before voting in person.”
Voter ID to go on NC ballots over Democrats’ protests
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Key Appointments Blocked
An important function of the Governor’s Office is the appointment of citizens to serve in key positions. [We will have to wait and see if the Governor still has these powers because of constitutional amendments 3 and 4 above.] Some of these appointments must be confirmed by the General Assembly. This week the General Assembly confirmed some appointments, but rejected several others with little or no explanation of why. Many of these appointments had been pending for months and some for as long as since April 2017.
News of the Week
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No Deal on Shellfish as Legislators Adjourn
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Surprises from beginning to end: A legislative recap
I hope you had a wonderful Fourth of July celebration. Thank you for your continued interest in state government. I hope you will contact me if I can be of help.
Keep in touch,
*Please remember that you can listen to each day’s session, committee meetings and press conferences on the General Assembly’s website at www.ncleg.net. Once on the site, select “Audio,” and then make your selection – House Chamber, Senate Chamber, Appropriations Committee Room or Press Conference Room. Susan.Fisher@ncleg.net