This week’s “Daily Journal” guest columnist is Becki Gray, John Locke Foundation Vice President for Outreach.
RALEIGH — Hurricane Irene might add some new business to the General Assembly’s work load when lawmakers return to town this month, but they will still focus much of their attention on constitutional amendments.
The 2011 General Assembly met from January to June to pass a $19.7 billion budget and 409 other new laws. After a short break, lawmakers returned for a July session to pass new Republican-leaning congressional and legislative maps, and to override several of Gov. Bev Perdue’s vetoes of key bills.
After another break, they are scheduled to return Sept. 12 to consider constitutional amendments. As with the redistricting plans, the governor cannot veto any constitutional amendments. Voters will decide which measures will become part of our state constitution.
During a news conference earlier this week, House Majority Leader Paul “Skip” Stam, R-Wake, signaled that the following amendments are likely to be considered:
• H.B. 8/S.B. 37 Eminent Domain. Outlaws private property condemnation except for public use and provides for just compensation as determined by a jury.
• S.B. 106/H.B. 777 Defense of Marriage. The only legally recognized domestic union is between a man and a woman.
• S.B. 140 Leadership Limits/ Gubernatorial Team Ticket. Limits the House speaker and the Senate president pro tem to three consecutive two-year terms (six years). The governor and lieutenant governor would run together in the general election.
• S.B. 641 Education Governance. Increases the size and changes the composition of the State Board of Education.
If lawmakers endorse any of these ideas, they would be on your ballot for approval in 2012. In addition to these proposals, legislators have proposed constitutional amendments focusing on a variety of other topics:
• H.B. 475 English the Official Language. Applies to all official business in North Carolina.
• H.B. 784 Supermajority to Raise Taxes. Would require a three-fifths vote of the legislature to levy state taxes.
• H.B. 188 Taxpayer Bill of Rights. Limits the growth of government spending to the growth in population plus inflation.
• H.B. 913 State Savings Fund. Creates a state savings account, allocating a percentage of revenue growth or spending into the fund each fiscal year.
• H.B. 800 Card Check. Guarantees the right of a person to vote by secret ballot during a union organizing campaign.
• H.B. 783 Independent Redistricting Comm. Establishes an independent commission appointed by House and Senate leaders, the chief justice of the Supreme Court, and the governor to draw legislative and congressional seats after the 2020 census.
• H.B. 158 Term Limits. Limits General Assembly members to four consecutive terms (eight years) per chamber.
• S.B. 139 Gubernatorial Team Ticket. Governor and lieutenant governor will run together in the general election, with each gubernatorial nominee selecting a running mate.
• H.B. 99 Judicial Terms. Vacancies on appellate courts would be filled by the governor; those judges would stand for re-election.
• S.B. 458 Judicial Appointment/Voter Retention. A Judicial Nominating Commission would recommend two candidates to fill any vacancy on the Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, and Superior Court. The governor would select one of the candidates to serve until the next election. At that election, voters would choose between the sitting judge and the other candidate.
• H.B. 325 Judicial Appointment/Voter Confirmation. The governor would fill vacancies on the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals. Voters could award justices and judges additional terms in retention elections.
• S.B. 134 Chief Dist. Ct. Judge Appoints Magistrates. Magistrates would be appointed by the chief District Court judge from nominations submitted by the clerk of Superior Court.
Our state constitution has been amended more than 20 times since 1971. Unlike statutes, which can be changed at the whim of the legislature, a vote of the people is required to approve or alter constitutional amendments. Before reaching the ballot, though, amendments must pass the legislature with 72 votes in the House and 30 in the Senate. That’s the next order of business for the 2011 General Assembly.