Six proposed constitutional amendments likely will be on the fall ballot without titles after Republican state lawmakers decided that the questions would be accompanied only by the words “Constitutional Amendment.”
A 2016 law gave responsibility for writing the titles to the Constitutional Amendments Publication Commission. Republicans said they were taking over the job because they were worried that the commission was under pressure to politicize them.
The House passed the bill 67-36. The Senate passed it 27-14. If Gov. Roy Cooper vetoes it, the legislature is prepared to override the veto quickly.
Republicans who control the North Carolina legislature called a special session for Tuesday with less than 24 hours notice to write the captions. They also proposed a change to judicial elections that would require state Supreme Court candidate Chris Anglin to run without a party affiliation next to his name. Anglin was a Democrat who changed his party affiliation and filed to run as a Republican. The state GOP executive director called Anglin “the enemy” in an interview.
The legislature is working under an Aug. 8 deadline to get the wording to the state board of elections for ballot printing.
Rep. Darren Jackson, the House Democratic leader, called the move to have Republican legislators write the titles “a power grab.”
Sen. Ralph Hise, a Spruce Pine Republican, said Republicans “picked a very apolitical statement” for the ballot.
Sen. Floyd McKissick, a Durham Democrat, said everything about the amendments was political.
“Just like all six of the amendments, they were written specifically to bring out the Republican base,” McKissick said.
Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, a Democrat, leads the amendments commission. Democratic Attorney General Josh Stein and Legislative Services Officer Paul Coble, a Republican, are the other two members.
Marshall said in a Monday interview and a letter to legislative leaders that no one has tried to influence the caption-writing.
The commission will still have the job of writing descriptions of the amendments that will be distributed to local boards of education and others.
The commission had asked for public input, and Gerry Cohen, former legislative counsel at the General Assembly, tweeted the captions he suggested last week.
Senate leader Phil Berger said the reaction to Cohen’s tweets raised concerns.
“More than his tweets, some of the responses to the tweets,” Berger said.
Rep. David Lewis, who wrote a letter to House Speaker Tim Moore on Saturday about returning to write the amendment titles, said he had not seen Cohen’s tweets.
“Gerry is a good friend,” Lewis said. “I take his advice quite often.”
Lewis, the Harnett County Republican who runs the House Rules Committee, said he read editorials with misinformation and saw “so much anger and frustration generated by the left.”
Rep. Nelson Dollar, a Cary Republican, suggested that the commission was dragging its feet.
“It’s very clear that the commission was slow-playing this, was talking about taking extra information,” Dollar said.
The proposed constitutional amendments:
- Require voters to present photo ID.
- Set a 7 percent ceiling on the state income tax, lowering the cap from 10 percent. The personal income tax rate is now 5.499 percent.
- Give legislators a major role in choosing who should fill judicial vacancies, limiting the governor’s power.
- Protect hunting and fishing, and make hunting and fishing “a preferred means of managing and controlling wildlife.”
- Have the legislature choose eight members to make up the Bipartisan State Board of Ethics and Elections Enforcement, with nominees coming from each party. Take away the governor’s power to appoint members to nearly 400 boards, and give that power to the legislature.
- Add rights in the legal system for victims of felony crimes.