Government Affairs Update

Virginia Troi Hicks, Joint Government Affairs Director

Government Affairs Update – July 30, 2018

From the Desk of Troi Hicks
Joint Government Affairs Director 

What’s on the ballot?

In addition to local and state elections on the ballot this November, North Carolina voters will be presented with several changes to the state constitution. Legislators have proposed six state constitutional amendments.

House Bill 1092: Voter ID

Constitutional amendment to require voters to provide photo identification before voting in person.

Under current North Carolina law, voters do NOT have to present photo identification when they vote in-person. The General Assembly rolled out a photo ID requirement in 2013, but the US Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the law in 2016. As such, there has been no ID requirement for voting in North Carolina. 34 other states have some sort of voter ID provision in place; 17 states require photo identification, and 17 accept non-photo ID. Generally, if voters do not present valid identification when voting in person in these states, they cast a provisional ballot, and must return within a certain number of days to certify their ballot. Photo IDs are generally not required when voting by mail or absentee.

The proposed amendment to the NC Constitution would require voters to present valid photo identification before casting a ballot. The law would become effective as soon as it has passed the vote. There are currently no clarifying provisions as to what types of photo ID will be considered “valid.” If passed by voters, the General Assembly will have to provide clarifying details to implement this amendment.

Senate Bill 75: Income Tax Cap

Constitutional amendment to reduce the income tax rate in North Carolina to a maximum allowable rate of seven percent (7%).

For tax year 2018, NC state income tax rate is 5.499%. Under current NC law, the state income tax rate cannot exceed 10%. The proposed amendment would lower the cap to 7%.

The initial version of the bill would have limited the tax rate at 5.5%, but was raised to 7% after the House raised concerns about the potential of economic changes in the state.

House Bill 551: Victims’ Rights (“Marsy’s Law”)

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.

This bill comes to North Carolina as a national effort inspired by the death of Marsy Nicholas to expand protections for victims. From the Bill Summary Background: “Marsalee (Marsy) Nicholas was killed in 1983, in California. A week after the murder, Marsy’s brother and mother ran into the accused murderer in the grocery store. The family had not been notified that the suspect had been granted pre-trial release. At that time, there was no obligation for the courts or law enforcement to inform a victim or victim’s family about the release of a defendant.”

North Carolina previously amended the constitution in 1996 to include rights for victims of crime. NC is one of 32 total states that have such provisions.

The proposed amendment would further expand the offenses that trigger victims’ rights to include all felony property crimes and crimes against the person. If adopted, the NC constitution would guarantee the following to victims:

  • To be treated with dignity and respect.
  • Reasonable, accurate, and timely notice, upon request.
  • To be present at any proceeding.
  • To be reasonably heard at certain proceedings.
  • Restitution in a reasonably timely manner.
  • Information, upon request.
  • To reasonably confer with the prosecutor

House Bill 913: Bipartisan Ethics and Elections Board

Constitutional amendment to establish a bipartisan Board of Ethics and Elections to administer ethics and election laws, to clarify the appointment authority of the Legislative and the Judicial Branches, and to prohibit legislators from serving on boards and commissions exercising executive or judicial authority.

In 2017, the General Assembly merged the former State Board of Elections, State Ethics Commission, and the Lobbying Compliance Division of the Secretary of State’s office, creating the Bipartisan State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement. Under current law, the 9 members who oversee the agency are appointed by the governor, and four must be Democrats, four Republicans, and there must be one unaffiliated member.

The proposed amendment would create an 8-member board appointed by the General Assembly. In an effort to preserve bipartisanship, no more than 4 members could be from the same political party. The amendment would also clarify the separation of powers in NC government by formally establishing that legislators cannot serve on executive or judicial boards or commissions.

Senate Bill 667: Right to Hunt and Fish

Constitutional amendment protecting the right of the people to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife.

Under current law, fish and wildlife resources “belong to the people of the State as a whole,” and the Department of Environmental Quality and the Wildlife Resources Commission manage these resources. This proposed amendment would protect “traditional methods” of hunting and fishing wildlife. “Traditional Methods” are undefined in the proposal. If passed, the amendment would establish hunting and fishing as the preferred means of wildlife management. No laws, unless based in wildlife conservation or management efforts, could be passed to interfere with this right.

Senate Bill 814: Merit System to fill Judicial Vacancies

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.

Under current law, NC State Supreme Court Justices, Judges of the Court of Appeals, Superior Court Judges, and District Attorneys are all elected by citizens. However, if a vacancy occurs between election cycles, the governor is charged with appointing someone to fill the vacancy. The proposed amendment creates a commission that accepts judicial nominees from the public for these vacancies. The General Assembly would then review the nominees and pass on two choices to the governor, who would then select from the two options.

If you live in Winston-Salem, you’ll also be asked to approve 5 bond packages at the City level. Each package will be listed separately on the ballot.

  • Streets and Sidewalks: $43,700,000
  • Parks and Recreation: $31,000,000
  • Public Safety Facilities: $21,100,000
  • Economic Development: $14,500,000
  • Housing: $11,700,000

The amounts of each bond category are set, but the projects within the packages can still change. You can find a list of the proposed projects here.

Forsyth County residents will be presented with a sales tax referendum developed to generate revenue for the new Hall of Justice development project downtown. The quarter-cent sales tax would apply to purchases in Forsyth County, excluding gas and groceries. If voters do not approve the sales tax, the county property tax would need to increase by 3.1 cent in the next budget.

It is sure to be an exciting election season in North Carolina! Be sure to read up on local and state candidates. More resources to come!