[This story was updated July 1 after all six were approved by the General Assembly.]

Legislative Republicans are pursuing a host of changes to the state constitution this year.

In some cases, they’re perhaps sensing that they could lose their veto-proof majority of the General Assembly. In others, adding language to the constitution keeps the court system from interfering. And finally, in some cases, this is the only way they can implement some of their policy priorities.

Constitutional amendments must be approved by voters, so your ballot might be pretty busy this fall.

Here’s a quick reference guide to 6 constitutional amendments you will be voting on, ranked by how big a change they represent.

1) Voter ID

Bill numberHouse Bill 1092

What it does: This amendment would require voters to show photo identification before casting ballots. The actual structure of the law accomplishing this would be drafted later. North Carolina has had a voter ID law before, struck down by the courts as part of a broader slate of elections changes that were deemed to target African-American voters. However, 34 states have some form of voter ID law.

Photo by Donald Lee Pardue via Flickr (Creative Commons).

2) Income tax cap at 7%

Bill number: Senate Bill 75

What it does: Prevents the personal income tax rate from exceeding 7%. This replaces the current provision in the state constitution capping income tax rates at 10%.

Interestingly, the state House and Senate disagreed on what level the cap should be. The initial bill from the Senate would have set the cap at 5.5%, roughly where the tax rate is set for 2018. The House didn’t agree, worried that such a low cap would constrain the state should economic conditions change. That argument won out.

3) Victims’ rights

Bill numberHouse Bill 551

What it does: This amendment includes a slate of provisions delineating rights of people who are victims of crimes. These include:

  • Being notified of criminal proceedings against the accused perpetrator
  • The right for the victim to speak at all hearings involving plea, sentencing, parole, or the release of the defendant.
  • The right to “full and timely” restitution.
  • The right to be “reasonably protected” from the defendant.
  • A “prompt conclusion” the case.
  • Victims’ attorneys can petition the court to enforce any of these provisions.

4) Bipartisan elections board and appointment control

Bill number: House Bill 913

What it does: The General Assembly has been fighting with Gov. Roy Cooper over the State Board of Elections for several years now. The N.C. Supreme Court has ruled that the current constitution ensures that the governor has control over the board. This would eliminate that argument by enshrining a new system that includes an 8-member board appointed by assembly leaders. No more than 4 members can be from the same political party.

The proposed amendment also clarifies that the General Assembly has “control” over any “executive, legislative, or judicial appointment” — though it does not say how the legislature would exercise that and it’s not clear how different this is from the current set-up.

Opponents argue that this takes away what little remaining power the governor’s office has.

5) Right to hunt and fish

Bill numberSenate Bill 677

What it does: Enshrines the public’s right to hunt and fish in the state constitution. It also sets up potential challenges to hunting restrictions by saying any limits on this right can only come from laws intended to promote wildlife conservation and protect the future of hunting and fishing.

6) Merit system for filling judicial vacancies

Bill numberSenate Bill 814

What it does: Changes the rules for who appoints judges when vacancies occur between elections. Currently, the governor appoints them. This would set up a system where anybody in the state could submit nominations to a nonpartisan “Judicial Merit Commission,” which would then evaluate their fitness and send that info to the General Assembly. The legislature would then pick two names to send to the governor. In cases where the vacancy occurs right before an election, the chief justice of the N.C. Supreme Court would make the pick instead of the governor.

The Justice Building in downtown Raleigh, home of the N.C. Supreme Court. Photo by the North Carolina Judicial Branch via Facebook.

Cover photo of a fisherman in Bynum, NC by bobistraveling via Flickr (Creative Commons).



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