Be wise on constitutional change

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What can lawmakers consider during the 2018 short session? Not everything, because of limits imposed by the long session Adjournment Resolution. Important issues such as school funding, certificate of need repeal, work requirements for Medicaid, repeal of the capital gains tax, changes to the ABC system, and more will be delayed until 2019.

But there’s still plenty of work for legislators. Cross-over bills are OK, as are all budget bills and any affecting the pension or retirement systems. Recommendations from study committees, local bills, and appointment bills, or action required by the governor are OK, too. Lawmakers can bring up some contentious issues, such as those dealing with election laws, impeachment and litigation. Joint resolutions and bills vetoed by the governor, including three not yet overridden from last year, can be considered.

Bills proposing amendments to our state constitution are eligible for consideration during the short session.

North Carolina has had three constitutions — 1776 after the Declaration of Independence, 1866 after the Civil War brought North Carolina back into the Union, and 1971 during a reorganization of state government. The current constitution has been amended more than 20 times.

Section XIII reserves the power to amend or change the constitution to the people. It can be done either by a convention of the people or by legislative initiative.

Although the General Assembly can initiate changes to the constitution, the power to change it lies with the people. All that lawmakers can do is bring amendments to us for a vote.

Eighteen constitutional amendment bills were introduced during the long session. Because of the eligibility rules for the short session, more will probably be introduced.

Senate Bill 74 proposes to cap the income tax rate at 5.5 percent. It’s currently capped at 10 percent. The current personal income tax rate is 5.25 percent because of further tax cuts in this year’s budget.

Senate Bill 677 would protect the right to hunt, fish and harvest wildlife.

House Bill 727 would impose constitutional limits on the growth of state spending to the annual growth rate of inflation plus population.

House Bill 3 and Senate Bill 34 would prohibit condemnation of private property except for a public use and provide for just compensation with right of trial by jury in condemnation cases.

House Bill 551 would strengthen protections and establish rights for crime victims.

House Bill 145 would repeal the constitutional provision allowing the General Assembly to prohibit carrying concealed weapons.

House Bill 819 and Senate Bill 632 would clarify the right to live and the right to work, and that right shall not be denied because of membership or non-membership in any labor union.

Senate Bill 702, House Bill 735 and House Bill 674 would establish an independent redistricting commission.

House Bill 133 would provide for the election of the State Board of Education. Members are now appointed by the governor.

Several proposed amendments would limit government service. House Bill 682 would limit the length of legislative sessions, House Bill 413 would limit service in the General Assembly to 16 years, House Bill 193 would extend legislative terms to four years — now two-year terms — and House Bill 105 would limit the governor and lieutenant governor to a lifetime maximum of two terms.

New constitutional amendments can be proposed during the short session. One likely proposal is a requirement for identification when voting. Judicial selection, moving toward a retention or merit-based process from our current election system, may be considered. Leaders for months have hinted numerous amendments may be brought forward.

North Carolina’s constitution lays out the process for voting on amendments initiated by lawmakers. In addition to voting for your congressman, members of the General Assembly and local candidates, and issues on your ballot, expect to be asked to amend our state constitution. It’s not only a right, but it’s also a responsibility. Use it wisely.

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Becki Gray is senior vice president at the John Locke Foundation.

Becki Gray is senior vice president at the John Locke Foundation.