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House OKs trio of proposed constitutional amendments

Posted April 25

NC Flag, Legislative Building, Raleigh

— North Carolina's constitution could have additions and deletions next year, if voters say so.

The House on Tuesday approved three proposed amendments, all of which will go on the ballot in November 2018 if also approved by the Senate.

One would reinforce existing statutes that North Carolina is a right-to-work state, meaning people cannot be required to join a labor union or pay union dues to get a job.

Sponsor Rep. Justin Burr, R-Stanly, called unions a drag on the economy and said they just redirect people's wages into Democratic political campaigns.

"This is a freedom issue," said Rep. Michael Speciale, R-Craven, noting he balked at paying union dues when he worked in Chicago.

Other lawmakers who were union members countered that the organizations push for better working conditions and help to supplement workers' incomes after they retire.

North Carolina has been a right-to-work state since the 1940s, and Rep. Mickey Michaux, D-Durham, noted that no one has ever tried to change or scrap laws to that effect. So, the constitutional amendment is unnecessary, he said.

"You're making a mockery of this document [state constitution]," Michaux said. "The right-to-work law has never been in jeopardy."

The bill passed 75-44.

Term limits for top officials

A second amendment would limit the governor and lieutenant governor to two terms in their lifetimes.

North Carolina governors and lieutenant governors could serve only one term until the state constitution was amended in 1971. Now, the constitution states that no governor or lieutenant governor can serve "more than two consecutive terms."

Former Gov. Jim Hunt served two terms, from 1977 to 1985, then left office and returned eight years later to serve two more terms, from 1993 to 2001.

Sponsor Rep. Bert Jones, R-Rockingham, amended the bill before it passed 85-34 to state that, if someone had to assume one of the two offices because of a death, resignation or other circumstance, that partial term in office wouldn't be counted against the two-term limit.

No more literacy test

A final amendment would repeal the section of the constitution that calls for a literacy test as a requirement to register to vote.

Literacy tests were commonly used to turn black voters away from the polls, especially in rural areas, throughout the first half of the 20th century. The practice was ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1966.

"I don't need to discuss where it came from," Speciale said of the literacy test's inclusion in the state constitution, "It's a stain on North Carolina, and I would like to see it come out of our constitution."

The bill passed 119-0.

Lawmakers also tried in 1970 to remove the test from the constitution, but voters defeated that attempt.

1 Comment

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  • Matthew Danielson Apr 26, 10:09 a.m.
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    Why waste time, money and effort to change the constitution regarding right-to-work state? A change in the constitution for something that affects around 3% of the population.

    North Carolina has the lowest rate of union membership in the country:
    * Workers in unions: 3.2%
    * Of which only 1.8% is in the private sector.
    * Total union workers in NC 116,692