Friday, November 15, 2019
FlashbacksNorth Carolina

What’s behind the NCGA’s six Constitutional Amendments?

Republicans in the General Assembly have proposed six amendments to the state’s constitution, which will appear on the November ballot. A Democrat-led committee was to create the bills’ wording for the ballot. But the GOP super-majority called a special session and seized control of the job.

North Carolina’s Republican-controlled legislature wants your permission to change the state’s Constitution in serious and fundamental ways. The lawmakers have drafted six bills, including one that requires voters to present photo IDs and two that strip appointment powers from the governor.


The amendments have been written with little research, bipartisan discussion, or a public plan for implementation. Their wording is “intentionally vague or overly rosy in an effort to lull voters into passage.” And most of the amendments authorize the General Assembly to fill in details later, including the sorts of acceptable ID voters need.

The good news should be that a commission of two Democrats and one Republican will be writing short, easily understood summaries of the bills for the ballot. But House Rules Chairman David Lewis, R-Harnett, wrote to House Speaker Tim Moore on Saturday expressing concerns about unnamed outside political groups trying to sway the commission. In other words, the Democratic members on the Republican-formed commission couldn’t be trusted to affix impartial short titles to each of the amendments.

Thus, the Republicans briefly returned to Raleigh on Tuesday, less than four weeks after the General Assembly wrapped up its work session for the year. And now the Republicans are in charge of adding the amendment titles that will appear on the ballot.

The NCGA adjourned the short session with plans to reconvene on November 27. Then, the outgoing Republican legislators can craft bill language as they see fit, before the newly elected representatives can be installed in January. Clearly the plan is to do whatever they want regardless of the election outcome.

Below are links to the six amendments’ full and original text. Under each link is an explanation of the amendments’ meanings and consequences.

HB 913 Bipartisan Ethics and Elections Enforcement

The referendum will appear on the November 2018 ballot in the following format:

[ ] FOR [ ] AGAINST  

“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.”

While anything “bipartisan” sounds good, and that is their intention with this word choice, what they are intending is a Board of Ethics and Elections that will be deadlocked with a 4-4 equal split of Democrats and Republicans, without the current 9th Unaffiliated member. This could allow for challenges to elections laws to be dismissed.

In addition, the language is misleading in that it does much more than “clarify” appointment authority. It is a blatant power grab by the legislature, solidifying appointment powers for every board and commission in the state (over 350 of them) and turning the executive branch into purely an administrative function. Not only does this fundamentally challenge the foundation of democracy in the separation, equality and independence of the branches, it gives completely unchecked power to a legislature fraught with conflicts of interest and abuses of power. We already have a strong legislative and a weak executive branch and this solidifies an even more powerful legislature. We should be moving towards a more equal split of the three branches, not more imbalance.

“The legislative powers of the State government shall control the powers, duties, responsibilities, appointments, and terms of office of any board or commission prescribed by General Assembly Of North Carolina…”

This proposal would mean the governor would have no say in elections board membership.

HB 1092 Require Photo ID to Vote

The referendum will appear on the November ballot in the following format:


Constitutional amendment to require voters to provide photo identification before voting in person.

Sounds ok, right? And indeed it will appeal to most conservative voters. But we know voter ID laws disproportionately affect poor, rural, minority, and women voters, and indeed that’s why the courts struck down this legislature’s 2013 voter ID law for discriminating against African Americans “with almost surgical precision.” This legislature cannot be trusted to enact fair voter ID laws.

The NCGOP is refusing to show it’s hand with the bill language upfront. If this amendment passes in November, we will most likely see a special session called in December for the GOP to write the law as they see fit, before the newly voted assembly members are seated (reminiscent of the Carolina Coup in Dec. 2016 when they stripped the powers of the executive branch before newly elected Gov. Cooper was installed in office). Giving them carte blanche to re-write the 2013 Monster Voting Law will likely end up with the issue in the courts again for years, taking us beyond the 2020 election and any chance for expanding access to the polls and ensuring results are representative of the citizens of NC.

Read about 96yr old Rosanell Eaton’s voting challenges here.

Having this requirement in the constitution would insulate it from state court challenges. “Such an amendment would have no effect on federal court challenges to a voter ID requirement.”

Recent press on this issue:

•  From Ari Berman at Mother Jones

•  From

•  From the News & Observor Editorial Board

•  Statement from the Southern Coalition for Social Justice

•  Statement from the Wake Co. League of Women Voters

•  Fact Sheet from the Wake Co. League of Women Voters

SB 75 Max Income Tax Rate

The referendum will appear on the November 2018 ballot in the following format:


Reduce the income tax rate in North Carolina to a maximum allowable rate of seven percent (7%).

The current constitutional cap on state income tax is 10%, where it’s been since 1936, and the state corporate tax rate is 3%. It’s a radical move towards a flat tax that has not been debated, and places far more burden on lower and middle income individuals. Further, it inhibits the state from raising taxes when necessary for infrastructure, natural disasters, and so on. This is on top of additional federal tax cuts already in place.

From the NC Justice Center’s Budget and Tax Center:

This proposal would threaten N.C.’s future. (Read the factsheet)

Here are some more reasons why:

#1: It would put our children’s education at risk. Learn more

#2: It would threaten our state’s bond rating. Learn more

#3: It could force property and state taxes to increase. Learn more

#4: It could hurt homegrown small businesses. Learn more

#5: It would hit women particularly hard. Learn more

#6: It would undermine equity. Learn more

#7: It would put the health and well-being of North Carolinians at risk. Learn more

#8: It would make N.C. ill-prepared to care for our elders. Learn more

#9: It would threaten our state’s natural resources and quality of life. Learn more

#10: It would threaten our democracy. Learn more

HB 551 Strengthening Victim’s Rights

The referendum will appear on the November 2018 ballot in the following format:


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.

This amendment, also known as Marsy’s Law, includes a slate of provisions delineating rights of people who are victims of crimes. These include (from Longleaf Politics): •

•  Being notified of criminal proceedings against the accused perpetrator

•  The right for the victim to speak at all hearings involving plea, sentencing, parole, or the release of the defendant.

•  The right to “full and timely” restitution.

•  The right to be “reasonably protected” from the defendant.

•  A “prompt conclusion” in the case.

•  Victims’ attorneys can petition the court to enforce any of these provisions.

Many of these provisions already exist under current NC laws, and we can see a lot of value in incorporating most of the others. However, a document that detailed the projected cost ($30M annually) was marked confidential, and was forbidden from discussion during the reading, and no bipartisan amendments were allowed. Enacting laws through constitutional amendments without planning or budgeting is highly irresponsible. It is also possible this unfunded amendment was added to make a “Vote No On All Amendments” campaign difficult.

SB 677  Protect the Right to Hunt and Fish

The referendum will appear on the November 2018 ballot in the following format:


Constitutional amendment protecting the right of the people to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife.

We’re not sure that there was a need for this, especially as those activities are already governed by licensing requirements from the NCGA. We’re also unclear if this means the state would refuse federal requirements and laws, especially environmental protections. Senator Floyd McKissick, Jr., has stated the architects of this bill conceded that they created this amendment specifically to drive voter turnout among their base, and not for any other need for it.

Article I of the North Carolina Constitution is a declaration of rights. This bill would add a section to Article I of the North Carolina Constitution protecting the right of people to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife, including by using traditional methods, and is subject only to laws and rules from the General Assembly promoting wildlife conservation and management and preserving the future of hunting and fishing.

SB 814  Judicial Vacancy Sunshine Amendment

The referendum will appear on the November ballot in the following format:


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.

This sounds great, but it fundamentally alters the balance of power, reducing the executive and judiciary’s power and giving it to the already powerful legislature. We also expect the NCGA to pack the Supreme Court with two extra seats and appoint the new justices through this mechanism.

This would set up a system where anybody in the state could submit nominations to a nonpartisan “Judicial Merit Commission,” which would then evaluate their fitness and send that info to the General Assembly. The legislature would then pick two names to send to the governor. In cases where the vacancy occurs right before an election, the chief justice of the N.C. Supreme Court would make the pick instead of the governor. Ultimately the legislature would choose two candidates from whom the governor can pick. It’s easy to imagine how stacked the candidates would become, especially for vacancies on the courts that hear complaints against the legislature. There is no indication yet how the Judicial Merit Commission would be created.

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