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Proposed amendments to be labeled simply 'Constitutional Amendment' on ballot

State lawmakers opted for simplicity Tuesday in deciding how to label six proposed constitutional amendments on the November ballot.

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By
Matthew Burns
, WRAL.com senior producer/politics editor, & Laura Leslie, WRAL Capitol Bureau chief
RALEIGH, N.C. — State lawmakers opted for simplicity Tuesday in deciding how to label six proposed constitutional amendments on the November ballot.

Each amendment will appear under the heading "Constitutional Amendment" per legislation that cleared the House 67-36 and the Senate 27-14 with little debate. Gov. Roy Cooper will have 10 days to either sign or veto the bill or allow it to become law without taking action.

The Constitutional Amendments Publication Commission, a three-member panel that consists of two Democrats and one Republican, is tasked by law to write the short captions to appear on the ballot and a longer paragraph or two to explain each amendment "in simple and commonly used language" that would be available at local boards of elections to anyone who requests them.

But Republican legislative leaders feared the commission would write the captions in a way that would put them in a negative light. So, they called a special session to handle the captions. House Rules Chairman David Lewis, R-Harnett, said the commission still must draft the longer explanations when it meets next week.

"For this, we've been called back from all over North Carolina and beyond in special session and at considerable cost to the taxpayers of North Carolina? What on earth is the concern? What is the fear?" asked Rep. Joe John, D-Wake. "There's no valid reason for us to be here at this late date changing the rules midstream."

Rep. Darren Jackson, D-Wake, called the proposal a "power grab" to take away a duty lawmakers assigned to the commission only a couple of years ago.

"It's a duty they've never had before or exercised before, and this makes clear that they don't need to exercise it now, either," Lewis said.

"No matter who's in control down here, you don't want an outside group doing your job for you," said Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph.

Sen. Floyd McKissick, D-Durham, said the GOP-controlled legislature wouldn't have called a special session if Republicans also controlled the commission.

"This is all political, just like the six amendments," McKissick said.

Rep. Nelson Dollar, R-Wake, accused the commission of "slow-playing" its role in the process, saying they could bump up against the Aug. 8 deadline the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement has set for the ballot captions, which gives counties enough time to print up ballots before mailing them out to absentee voters in September.

"This bill actually takes a very neutral position. It doesn't try to be pejorative," Dollar said. "All it does is say, 'Constitutional Amendment,' and then the actual language that was passed by this body and was passed by the Senate ... is what the voters will have there to read."

Democrats argue the language in the six bills calling for the amendments is misleading. For example, one proposal calls for creating a bipartisan board of ethics and elections, but such a board already exists. The amendment, if approved, also would give lawmakers, rather than the governor, the power to appoint members to that board and to dozens of other state boards and commissions.

"What it does is it takes the governor's appointments – I've heard as many as 3,000 appointments – away from the governor and gives them to the General Assembly, or has the potential to do that," Jackson said. "So, the language is already misleading. Maybe they were afraid the commission would come up with a title or a caption that wasn't misleading."

Sen. Jeff Jackson, D-Mecklenburg, said an amendment on filling judicial vacancies is even more misleading because it focuses on merit-based selection of judges and doesn't mention that the General Assembly, not the governor, would control who would fill vacant seats on the bench between elections.

"Y'all don't want to level with people about that because you know they won't like it," Jeff Jackson said.

The six proposed amendments are:

  • House Bill 913, which would shift appointment powers on state boards and commissions from the governor to the General Assembly
  • Senate Bill 814, which would have the legislature, not the governor, fill judicial vacancies between elections
  • House Bill 1092, which would require photo ID at the polls
  • House Bill 551, which would expand court notice requirements for crime victims
  • Senate Bill 677, which would guarantee the right to hunt and fish via undefined "traditional methods"
  • Senate Bill 75, which would lower the constitutional cap on corporate and individual income taxes from 10 percent to 7 percent

Sen. Paul Lowe, D-Forsyth, sarcastically suggested that the bill be amended to dissolve the commission altogether, but Sen. Harry Brown, R-Onslow, said the panel still serves a valuable purpose, as long as the members stick to what they're supposed to do.

"They are trying to get political," Brown said. "For someone on the panel to try to change that wording should concern everyone."

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