THE RALEIGH REPORT
July 6, 2018
In 2012, when Republicans won the governor's office and a supermajority in the House and Senate, they got serious about cutting taxes for the wealthy and reversing the social progress of the past 60+ years. It was painful to watch: the decline of our K-12 education system, the rollback of environmental protections, the transfer of powers from the governor to state legislators. I appealed to voters to help Democrats regain the majority or enough seats to sustain the governorís vetoes and restore some balance of power.
This year's short session changed my mind. What's at stake is much more than the progress of the past 60 years. These legislators are chipping away at democracy. For evidence, we have only to look at the six constitutional amendments, pushed through with no public input and little debate, that will be on the November ballot. Thatís compared to only 7 in the last 20 years. Why the sudden increase; why the rush? The most likely reason is to "lock in" their policies by enshrining them in the constitution in case they lose the majority in November.
Although the first two amendments on the ballot are likely intended to bring out more rural and more conservative voters, they are not free of potential problems.
Hunting and Fishing (amendment #1)
If passed, this amendment would declare that a person's right to hunt and fish shall be "forever preserved," but still "subject to laws passed." Wildlife protection advocates worry that the "subject to laws passed" language puts at risk animal cruelty protections. The language on the ballot is: "Constitutional amendment protecting the right of the people to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife." Read SB 677 here.
Victims' Rights (amendment #2)
If passed, the NC constitution will include additional language protecting the rights of crime victims. The NC constitution already has extensive victim rights protections; these new rights could lead to higher costs and legal delays. The language on the ballot is: "Constitutional amendment to strengthen protections for victims of crime; to establish certain absolute basic rights for victims; and to ensure the enforcement of these rights." Read HB 551 here.
Shift Power from Governor to General Assembly and Create Divided Elections Board (amendment #3)
First, this amendment transfers the governor's authority to appoint boards and commissions to the General Assembly, even for executive branch agencies. It would overturn a recent court ruling upholding the governor's appointing authority. Second, it reduces our nine-member elections and ethics board to eight-members, divides them evenly between the two major parties and transfers the governor's appointment power to legislative leaders. This amendment is designed to make the General Assembly far more powerful than the Governor or the courts. Read HB 913 here.
Legislative Selection of Judges to Fill Judicial Vacancies (amendment #4)
Voters elect judges. But what happens when a judge resigns, retires, or dies in office? The NC constitution now authorizes the Governor to appoint a replacement until the next general election. This amendment authorizes state legislators to narrow the field of applicants to two candidates; the governor must pick from these two. The amendment also allows the appointee to skip one election before facing the voters. The language on the ballot is misleading: "Constitutional amendment to implement a nonpartisan merit-based system that relies on professional qualifications instead of political influence when nominating Justices and judges to be selected to fill vacancies that occur between judicial elections." Read SB 814 here.
Income Tax Cap (amendment #5)
The 2019 personal income tax rate is 5.25% and the corporate income tax rate is 2.5%. The NC Constitution currently caps the income tax at 10% for people and corporations. This amendment would lower the cap to 7% for both. That would limit future legislaturesí ability to fund public schools and other essential services. As a result, in economic down-turns, elected officials might have to raise property taxes, fees, and sales taxes. The language on the ballot will read: "Constitutional amendment to reduce the income tax rate in North Carolina to a maximum allowable rate of seven percent (7%)." Read SB 75 here.
Put Photo Voter ID in Constitution (amendment #6)
This amendment would require every voter to show a photo ID when they go to the polls "subject to laws passed." The details are left to legislators to figure out later, such as what kind of ID is acceptable. It would allow legislators to pass the same racially discriminatory gerrymandering and voter suppression laws that the courts have found unconstitutional. We know voter turnout drops when states require a photo ID. A 2017 audit found that such a law would stop one fraudulent vote out of nearly 3 million cast. The language on the ballot will say: "Constitutional amendment to require voters to provide photo identification before voting in person."
I'm recommending we vote NO on all the amendments. The first two are not necessary. The other four undermine democracy.
How to Engage
It's tough to keep track of what is happening. Here are some ways to stay involved.
1. Call me or my legislative assistant Gina Insko at 919-733-7208 or email me at Inskola@ncleg.net with How can I get involved in the subject line.
2. Follow us on Twitter at @verlainsko and Facebook at Verla Insko.
3. Visit ncleg.net where you can see bills, listen to session, and see daily calendars.
4. Help us spread the word on social media or by forwarding this newsletter and other alerts or key news items.
As always, thank you for your support of my work in Raleigh as your representative. Please let me know of your position on issues, your suggestions for legislation and your requests for help.