Editorial: Amending state constitution: A marathon, not a sprint

Posted June 29, 2016
Updated July 7, 2016

The North Carolina flag flies over the historic state capitol building.

-- Drafters of our state’s Constitution meant for the amending process to be open, thorough and deliberate.
-- More public participation is needed BEFORE an amendment is on the ballot.
-- Why the rush? Is it merely a ploy to avoid scrutiny, or turn out a political base at election time?

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A CBC Editorial: Wednesday, June 29, 2016; Editorial# 8024
The following is the opinion of Capitol Broadcasting Company

On the North Carolina General Assembly’s website, there is a handy guide detailing how an idea becomes a law. It lists seven steps – and even steps within the steps. There also is a slide show that takes the curious through the process. To the uninitiated, it is tedious, plodding and deliberate. Citizens are left with the impression that their legislators are being thoughtful and careful as they go about making the laws we live by.

Oh, how deceiving those impressions can be – particularly in the case of the state Senate’s latest stealthy effort to shove three constitutional amendments before voters this fall. It is not much of an exaggeration to suggest that it takes longer to sit through the legislature’s slide show, than the time that’s been devoted to considering the latest state constitutional amendment scheme.

Regardless of the worthiness of the amendments in House Bill 3, and we’re still searching for any merit in them, amending our state Constitution should be done slowly, carefully with a maximum of opportunity for full public consideration and input, BEFORE anything is placed before the voters.

One of the proposals borders on being frivolous. We’re all for responsible hunting and fishing. But really, does the “right to hunt, fish and harvest wildlife” rank up there with the constitutional rights of crime victims, bearing arms, a jury trial, an education, worshiping as we choose and free elections? Perhaps the sponsors might want to add a right to shop to demonstrate support for retailing and commerce?

The other two amendments are more significant, complicated and have a variety of potential ramifications that deserve far more discussion, investigation and input by the public and legislators.

The plan to slash the Constitutional income tax rate ceiling in half, to 5.5 percent, would strip future legislatures of a tool that might be needed to address needs of the state. The change could also threaten North Carolina’s prized top bond rating – which allows the state to borrow money at the lowest possible rate, saving taxpayer dollars in the process.

Declaring that “private property shall not be taken by eminent domain except for public use,” may sound simple, but the ramifications aren’t. It is Exhibit Number One for why more discussion and deliberation is necessary. While it is a favorite of Republican conservatives who look to curtail the power of government, it might have an impact beyond what they intend.

It was 16 months ago when the House passed the original House Bill 3 – which contained only the proposal on eminent domain. When the House gets the bill back from the Senate, it would be wise to let it sit and gather dust until the session expires.

But, if for some reason, the House feels compelled to act, it should wrap the bill into a study proposal. That will give the legislature and the public the remaining fall and wintertime to give these constitutional amendments the thorough, thoughtful and public examination worthy of our state Constitution.


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