News: Quick Takes

Commission writes explanation of hunting and fishing, victims’ rights amendments

Two of the constitutional amendments voters will decide in November have final explanations for voter guides and other educational uses.

The North Carolina Constitutional Amendments Publication Commission Monday published the amendment descriptions for House Bill 551 and Senate Bill 677, which support the rights of hunters and victims. The commission decided to wait to write the other four explanations because of pending litigation. Any amendments surviving legal challenges will appear on the Nov. 6 ballot.

The other four amendments remain mired in lawsuits and controversy, much like the commission itself. In late July Republicans called a special legislative session to reverse a 2016 state law dealing with ballot captions for constitutional amendments. This year would have marked the first time a three-member commission would have written captions to appear on the ballot. Fearing that the two Democratic members of that commission would draft misleading captions based on partisan bias, lawmakers dumped the captions completely. Instead each amendment will be identified with the words “constitutional amendment.”

The commission’s members are Secretary of State Elaine Marshall and Attorney General Josh Stein, who are both Democrats, and Paul Coble, who is the state legislative services officer and a Republican.

The description for the amendment guaranteeing the right to hunt and fish clocks in at 136 words.

“This amendment would acknowledge the right to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife, and to use traditional methods to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife. The amendment does not define ‘traditional methods,’” the amendment description reads, before going on to explain the amendment’s relation to existing laws.

The description also says the amendment will “establish that public hunting and fishing are a preferred means of managing and controlling wildlife.”

The description for the victims’ rights amendment will be almost three times the length at more than 300 words.

It lays out eight rights already guaranteed to victims in the N.C. Constitution. Then it describes seven other rights the amendment would ensconce in the Constitution if approved.

“Today, victims have legal rights if the crime was a major felony, certain domestic violence cases, or one of several other kinds of serious crimes,” the explanation reads. “The amendment would expand the types of offenses that trigger victims’ rights to include all crimes against the person and felony property crimes. … This amendment directs the Legislature to create a procedure, by motion to the court, for a victim to assert his or her rights.”

Controversy has swirled around the other four amendments.

The Voter ID and Income Tax Cap amendments are flashpoints between Democrats and Republicans. The other two, the Bipartisan Ethics and Elections Enforcement and the Judicial Vacancy Sunshine Amendment, are the latest battlegrounds in the struggle between Gov. Roy Cooper and the Republican-controlled legislature over separation of powers.

Since its inception, the commission has written descriptions for amendments which were used in voter guides and posted at polling places. During the special session which adjourned Saturday, the General Assembly overrode Cooper’s veto of H.B. 3, reversing a 2016 state law giving the commission a new power to draft captions that would accompany constitutional amendments on the ballot.