Durham legislators said the November elections should be the NO-vember elections when it comes to six state constitutional amendments on the ballot.
Their opposition to the proposed amendments was unanimous at a Democratic town hall meeting Wednesday night. The lawmakers encouraged the nearly 200 people who attended to vote against all the amendments.
The six amendments deal with voter ID, capping the income tax rate, filling judicial vacancies, creating a bipartisan state ethics and elections board, establishing rights for victims of crime, and making hunting and fishing a constitutional right.
On their face, the amendments seem innocuous, legislators said.
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State Sen. Floyd McKissick said the amendments are written in a way that makes them seem like a good idea but really will be bad for the state in the long run.
“They’re deceptively worded,” he said.
▪ On the question of Voter ID, McKissick said the requirement for presenting photo identification to prevent voter fraud was a red herring because there were only two fraud cases out of more than 4 million votes cast in the last election.
“This is not about preventing voter fraud,” he said. “It’s about preventing people who don’t have or can’t get a photo ID from voting.”
▪ Filing judicial vacancies, which now is a power held by the governor, would shift to the legislature in the future if the amendment is adopted. The legislature would screen candidates and then give the governor a list of people who could be appointed under the amendment.
▪ Capping the state income tax rate at 7 percent is another amendment on the ballot. Other states have instituted caps with varying success.
Retiring state Rep. Mickey Michaux said losing this flexibility on the income tax could cause state and local governments to raise other taxes during a recession to cover any shortfalls. This would include the sales tax or property taxes at the local government level. Both of these taxes hit people with lower and middle incomes.
“People who can afford to pay a little more should pay a little more,” Michaux said.
The individual income tax rate now is 5.499 percent and will be lowered to 5.25 percent next year.
▪ Creating the Board of Ethics and Elections Enforcement combines the functions of two state boards. This board would have the final say on local elections decisions when local elections boards are unable to reach agreements. The amendment also clarifies legislative and judicial appointments to state boards and commissions.
McKissick called this amendment another effort to strip appointment powers from the governor.
“If this amendment passes, all the appointment power the governor now has will shift to the legislature,” McKissick said. “If that happens, all we’ll have then is a ceremonial governor who shows up at ribbon cuttings.”
▪ Establishing additional rights for crime victims is unnecessary because there already are protections in the state constitution, Rep. Marcia Morey said.
The proposed amendment would create additional notification requirements for victims of crime whenever a case is being considered in court.
▪ When the legislators asked the crowd if hunting and fishing needed constitutional protection, it brought a laugh to the room.
It was no laughing matter to Morey, who said the amendment could upend environmental regulations.
“We’re talking about being able to hunt and fish on environmentally sensitive lands,” Morey said. “The use of poisons and trapping could be allowed in areas we don’t want this activity to occur.”
When Michaux reflected on his 40-year career in the legislature, he said amending the state constitution was something that should rarely be done.
“I once served on a committee for constitutional amendments and Speaker Liston Ramsey told me to make sure they were all killed,” Michaux said. “And that’s what we did. We made sure the constitution remained a clean and brief document.”
McKissick called the number of amendments on the ballot unprecedented.
“I don’t think we’ve passed six constitutional amendments during the time Rep. Michaux has been in the House,” McKissick said. “And we don’t need to pass these now.”
Much larger crowd
The 200 people who packed into the community room at the M&F Bank Corporate Center to hear from the lawmakers was a much larger and more energized crowd compared with the two dozen or so people who attended a town hall meeting in March before the legislative session, McKissick said.
When Alexandra Valladares engaged McKissick afterward, she barely could contain her enthusiasm.
“This was powerful and inspiring,” she said. “I am here trying to learn how to open doors and figure out the issues we’re fighting for.”
Valladares told McKissick she recently realized how much of her life was intertwined with the decisions made by politicians.
“Politics is in everything,” said Valladares, who earned undergraduate degrees from N.C. Central and works at Duke University. “We are all affected. I want to take what I heard tonight back to my community. A lot of people couldn’t be here tonight. I want them to know what was said.”