Lawmakers pass new constitutional amendments; request to dismiss appeal of old ones

Two new constitutional amendments are on their way to the November ballot and lawmakers have requested to dismiss their appeal with regard to the two other similar constitutional amendments.

The two original amendments transferred appointment power from the Governor to the General Assembly with respect to state boards and commissions and judicial vacancies. There was also a veto loophole in the judicial vacancy amendment that would allow lawmakers to pass anything without gubernatorial review so long as they paired it with a judicial appointment.

The two new amendments deal with restructuring and enshrining the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement into the constitution and judicial vacancy appointments — though the veto loophole was removed.

A three-judge panel had struck the two original amendments from the November ballot but lawmakers appealed their ruling and then called a special session to rewrite the amendments. After the two new measures passed, they filed a request to dismiss their appeal.

The two new constitutional amendments do not have to undergo judicial or gubernatorial review — they will go straight to the ballot so long as there isn’t a new lawsuit filed. Gov. Roy Cooper’s Office could not be reached for comment about whether he planned to file a lawsuit over the new amendments.

Democrats on the Senate floor tried several times to amend the new constitutional amendments but their Republican colleagues voted to table them every time without debate.

Sen. Floyd McKissick Jr. (D-Durham) took great issue with the new process.

“You sit there and you try to say that you’ve made some modest improvements, but in fact once again, it’s false, it’s misleading, it’s taking more powers from the Governor — plain and simple,” he said during floor debate. “Why don’t we be transparent and tell the public that’s what you’re doing?”

Sen. Dan Blue (D-Wake) released a statement after the new amendments were passed also condemning the process.

“There are inconvenient truths to these amendments that Republicans continue to hide from the public,” he said. “The people deserve to know the majority’s intent and the full scope of the impact the amendments would have on our state Constitution. Republicans are giving the people a false image of shared leadership and authority. The truth is this is a continued effort to consolidate power within the legislature.”

Republican lawmakers said during floor debate they thought the new amendments addressed the lower court’s issues and there was no need to continue trying to clarify the ballot language. Sen. Jerry Tillman (R- Randolph) specifically said during a Monday committee meeting that the amendments were written exactly as the Republicans wanted and no one could interfere — not the courts and not the Governor.

The State Board has to begin ballot preparation and printing by Saturday to comply with federal standards on absentee voting. If there is new litigation over the new amendments, it would have to be settled by the end of the week.

Policy Watch reporter Joe Killian contributed to this report.

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