Legislative News by Nelda Holder –
Last month, we discussed the two (of six) proposed amendments to the NC Constitution that would shift certain powers currently assigned to the governor and give those to the General Assembly. Or more aptly, those amendments would give more power to the leadership of the General Assembly.
As many commenters have pointed out, that shift in the balance of power that is supposed to exist between our three branches of government has caused a great deal of skepticism, not the least of which has come from all five living current or former governors of the state, as well as the six former chief justices of the NC Supreme Court. All oppose both these amendments.
That unanimity breaks down somewhat when you examine the other four amendments. But because of another legislative change, you’ll have to scrutinize the ballot to see just which amendment you are voting against or for. The six are under a heading called “Referenda,” and each of the six is labeled simply “Constitutional Amendment,” meaning you must read further to know which amendment you are voting on.
How will you know what’s what?
To make matters more confusing, the brief synopsis of the amendment available on the ballot only partially reflects the full legislation that produced the amendment vote, which created two court battles over whether the ballot language “misled” the public. Gov. Roy Cooper (and additional parties) sued for this reason to keep the amendments off the ballot, but in round two the court allowed the new wording to move forward.
A mess? In a word, yes. And it gets worse. One of the “Constitutional Amendment” categories has this sentence as a descriptor: “Constitutional amendment to require voters to provide photo identification before voting in person.”
Simple, you might think … until you find out that the actual legislation that would govern such a requirement has not even been written. And as we know from past encounters with such a requirement, the devil is in the details. Disenfranchisement is a sure bet unless voter ID requirements are carefully crafted to allow/encourage a maximum number of voters, but we are not even allowed to know ahead of this vote what those requirement would be.
Then there is the amendment that would ostensibly “forever” preserve “for the public good” the “right of the people to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife….” The legislation producing this proposed amendment was backed by — take a guess — the National Rifle Association. But exactly what does it mean and why would it be necessary?
According to an editorial in the Wilson Times, this piece of legislation giveth and taketh in the same breath. Because the legislative language behind it grants that “right” and then makes it subject “only to laws enacted by the General Assembly and rules adopted pursuant to authority granted by the General Assembly….” The editorial sums up speculation shared around the state that the amendment makes “the ‘right’ to hunt and fish all but meaningless,” posing the question of whether the amendment is a “clever marketing trick” designed to increase Republican turnout.
Two more to chew on
The other two amendments in this unusually generous selection of constitutional questions have to do with limiting the state income tax and expanding the rights of crime victims. At first glance, who could oppose such things? But again, simplicity may not be what it seems.
The victims’ rights legislation has received critical scrutiny because while it would expand the number of victims of sexual assault or felony property crimes who would have the right of notification for court proceedings (along with the right to be heard), there are no provisions for the implementation of such an expansion.
According to reports, some $11 to $30 million in expenses is not part of the legislation producing this amendment, with complaints that even the current victim notification system is underfunded. Again—an idea that sounds appealing, but as a constitutional amendment its implementation is woefully questionable.
Finally, there is that oh-so-attractive amendment that would limit the state’s personal income tax to a high-water mark of 7%. Yes, we mention “water” for a purpose. Setting a relatively low cap on state income tax (even while the current rate is only 5.499%) in the face of an unknown future seems questionable at best. Look around the state. The recent path of Hurricane Florence will not heal completely for a long time, even without additional storms.
The vulnerability of the state’s infrastructure, in addition to the need to support the lives and livelihoods of the storm’s survivors, are daunting in scope. Hardly a time to tie the hands of those future legislatures that will attempt to right the ship.
In summary, the six amendments on this fall’s ballot are lacking in several important ways, in the opinion of this analyst.
First, the amendments offer little evidence of moving forward from a groundswell of state need, and a constitutional amendment is too serious to be instituted on a whim.
Second, the process of presenting the amendments, which replaced a non-legislative committee’s earnest work in the past, has caused confusion and cost us more court money.
Third, based on the merits of each amendment, there are too many untested and undebated (in public) concepts and powers being reshaped by the amendments as they stand. The legislative leadership has done the public no favors in pushing them forward at this time.
Voting in the wake of Hurricane Florence
With the General Assembly set to convene on Tuesday, October 2, to address the state’s response in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, the NC NAACP held a press conference in Raleigh on Monday, reaching out to lawmakers, Gov. Cooper, and the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement to extend voter registration in affected counties by a minimum of three (business) days.
A second request was to extend the deadline for absentee ballots to 5 p.m. on the day prior to the General Election (November 6), and to allow community organizations and churches to assist with absentee balloting, as well as to provide early voting and other accommodations in certain communities.
Nelda Holder is the author of The Thirteenth Juror – Ferguson: A Personal Look at the Grand Jury Transcripts.