The Constitutional Amendments Publication Commission consists of, from left, Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, a Democrat, Legislative Services Officer Paul Coble, a Republican, and Attorney General Josh Stein, a Democrat. N&O file photos

BY T. KEUNG HUI for the Raleigh News and Observer

khui@newsobserver.com

July 21, 2018 05:56 PM    RALEIGH

The Republican-led state legislature might return to Raleigh soon to take away from a Democrat-led commission control over the wording of the six amendments that will be on the November ballot.

The three-member Constitutional Amendments Publication Commission, whose members include Democratic Secretary of State Elaine Marshall and Democratic Attorney General Josh Stein, are charged with writing the ballot questions for the proposed amendments to the State Constitution.

But in a letter Saturday to House Speaker Tim Moore, House Rules Committee Chairman David Lewis said the General Assembly should return for a special session by the week of Aug. 6 to write the ballot wording. Lewis, a Republican from Harnett County, wrote that he was concerned that the commission was under pressure from groups to write “politicized captions.”

“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,” Lewis wrote.

The six amendments on the ballot cover a wide range of topics, such as setting a new cap on the state’s income tax rate, guaranteeing the right to hunt and fish and requiring voters to show photo ID when they vote in person.

The proposed constitutional amendments

▪ Require voters to present photo ID.

▪ Set a 5.5 percent ceiling on the state income tax. The personal income tax rate is now 5.499 percent.

▪ Have legislators decide who should fill judicial vacancies, rather than the governor.

▪ 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.

▪ Add rights in the legal system to victims of felony crimes.

The amendments were supported by most Republican legislators, while many Democratic lawmakers voted against some of the amendments. The potential special session drew criticism from Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and from Democratic legislators.

“Legislative Republicans who work in secret are looking for new ways to shut the public out,” Sadie Weiner, a spokeswoman for Cooper, tweeted Saturday. “Not content to fix the game, they’re rewriting the rules to favor deception and secrecy over public input and transparency.”

“Rewrite the rules, then rewrite them again,” state Sen. Dan Blue of Raleigh, the Senate’s Democratic leader, tweeted Saturday.

State law puts the commission in charge of writing an “explanation” of amendments that will “include a short caption reflecting the contents … to be used on the ballot and the printed summary.” It also says the ballot items “shall be designated by only the short caption provided by the Constitutional Amendments Publication Commission.”

This week, the Commission announced that through July 25 it was accepting from the public suggestions for the explanation and caption language.

The panel needs to send the language to the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement by the week of Aug. 6.

In Saturday’s letter, Lewis wrote he’s concerned the commission might not adopt the wording until Aug. 7, right near the end of the deadline. Lewis wrote that this timeline “leaves little time for the General Assembly or the courts to stop the commission from acting lawlessly to politicize the process.”

“Failing to act on our part would allow the commission to run out the clock and fail the people of North Carolina by not providing them with the necessary short, apolitical captions to identify proposed amendments to our Constitution,” Lewis wrote. “The Legislature is better equipped to hold a Special Session, propose the caption language, solicit public input and settle this issue timely.”

UPDATE SINCE PUBLICATION:

Lawmakers will return to write constitutional amendment ballot descriptions   https://www.newsobserver.com/news/politics-government/state-politics/article215378245.html