Politics & Government

Democrats say special session is unconstitutional and meant ‘to deceive voters’

What are the 6 NC constitutional amendments placed on the fall ballot?

The NC legislature is placing six constitutional amendments on the fall ballot. Here's a look at what North Carolinians will be voting on.
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The NC legislature is placing six constitutional amendments on the fall ballot. Here's a look at what North Carolinians will be voting on.

North Carolina Democrats probably won’t be able to stop anything their Republican rivals have planned for Tuesday’s session of the state Legislature, so they’re turning to other measures to object.

The Legislature previously approved six amendments to the state constitution that will appear on this November’s ballot, all backed by the Legislature’s veto-proof Republican majority. During the special session, they planned to decide what would appear on the ballot to describe those amendments — bypassing a group of state officials controlled by Democrats.

Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper took to social media to accuse Republicans of lying to voters, and his campaign also used its email lists to send out a mass plea for campaign donations, to help Democrats in this fall’s elections.

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Cooper isn’t up for re-election until 2020, but every seat in the North Carolina General Assembly is up for grabs this year.

“Republicans in the legislature voted to put a bunch of harmful and unnecessary constitutional amendments on the November ballot,” the Cooper campaign’s fundraising email said. “They know that many of their amendments are unpopular, so they just called themselves back for a special session to write misleading ballot language to deceive voters.”

The Legislature convened around noon on Tuesday. As of 1:45 p.m., however, no votes had been taken.

House Republicans voted to pass HB 3, a bill allowing for 6 proposed amendments to the NC constitution to appear on the fall ballot captioned only by the words "constitutional amendment," in an extra legislative session on Tuesday, July 24, 2018.

The top Democrat in the N.C. House of Representatives, Knightdale Rep. Darren Jackson, said at the start of Tuesday’s session that he believed it was unconstitutional. Republican leadership announced their plans Monday, with fewer than 24 hours of advance notice to the public, and Jackson said that made it “injurious to the public.”

Republicans did not respond to Jackson’s accusation, but simply continued on with the business of the day.

Previously, they had defended the need for the session, saying the three-member commission couldn’t be trusted not to “politicize” the amendments.

“It appears that the Commission may be falling to outside political pressure, contemplating politicizing the title crafting process, including using long sentences or negative language in order to hurt the amendments’ chances of passing,” wrote Harnett County Republican Rep. David Lewis in a letter to GOP House Speaker Tim Moore, requesting the special session.

The Democrats on that commission are Attorney General Josh Stein and Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, and the Republican is Legislative Services Officer Paul Coble. Stein and Marshall are both elected officials, and Coble is an appointed official, who was formerly the Raleigh mayor.

Legislative sessions aren’t free. Most legislators are paid $104 a day whenever they’re in session, the staff also has to be paid, and there are higher utility bills. In 2016, the special session to pass HB2 cost taxpayers around $42,000 a day.

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The proposed constitutional amendments:

  • Require voters to present photo ID.

  • Set a 7 percent ceiling on the state income tax. 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.
Doran: 919-836-2858; Twitter: @will_doran
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