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NCGA leadership releases new constitutional amendment language

Posted August 23, 2018 7:13 p.m. EDT
Updated August 23, 2018 11:20 p.m. EDT

A shot of the entrance area to the N.C. Legislative Building.

General Assembly leadership Thursday evening released the language legislators will start from when they gather again Friday to rework proposed constitutional amendments in an effort to keep these proposals on the November ballot.

A three-judge panel deemed their initial language too misleading to go before voters, potentially keeping two amendments that would shift appointment powers from the governor to the legislature from being on the ballot at all.

The Republican majority decided Thursday to come back into session to address the court's concerns, setting up the third General Assembly session of the year to deal with these amendments.

September deadlines approach for the state to finalize language and mail absentee ballots.

GOP leaders also made at least one substantive change to what the proposed amendments would actually do, based on draft language released Thursday after input from both House and Senate leadership.

No longer would an amendment reworking the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement also assert legislative authority to appoint the memberships of hundreds of other state boards now appointed by the governor.

Instead the bill would just lay out the new Board of Elections, which would be made up of half appointees from the majority party in the General Assembly, half from the minority party. The governor would still have a nominal role in these appointments if voters approve, but the power would shift to legislative leaders from the majority and minority parties.

On election day voters would be asked to vote for or against this language (click for full bill):

"Constitutional amendment to establish an eight-member Bipartisan Board of Ethics and Elections Enforcement to administer ethics and elections law."

This language is very similar to the first part of the original, the part dealing with the board. In its order, the three-judge panel said similar language was acceptable.

The other amendment would still change the way judicial vacancies are filled. Instead of allowing the governor to fill them largely as he or she sees fit, the General Assembly would forward at least two nominees to the governor after review by an appointed commission. The governor would have to pick one of those two nominees.

This is functionally the same amendment as before, but the ballot language voters would see changes from:

"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."

To:

"Constitutional amendment to change the process for filling judicial vacancies that occur between judicial elections from a process in which the appointment is solely at the will of the Governor to a process in which the people of the State will nominate individuals to fill vacancies by way of a commission comprised of appointees made by the judicial, executive, and legislative branches charged with making recommendations to the legislature as to which nominees are deemed qualified; then the legislature will recommend nominees to the Governor via legislative action that would not be subject to gubernatorial veto; and the Governor will appoint judges from among these nominees"

Click for full bill.

New in this language: An answer to this complaint from the court: "The (original) amendment makes substantial changes to appointment powers of the governor in filing judicial vacancies, but no mention is made of the governor in the ballot language."

The new bill also deals with another concern Democrats put forward, and which the three-judge panel endorsed; that the legislation had an end-around the General Assembly could use to avoid vetoes. Republican leadership and their attorneys didn't agree with this interpretation, but added language to the bill to address the concern.