In addition to the U.S. Constitution, every state has one as well. North Carolina’s is an important governing document — one that limits government, protects rights, and sets state policy. State constitutions are longer, more detailed, and more policy-driven than their federal counterpart. They are also more frequently amended.
How does one go about amending the N.C. Constitution? The answer can be found in – guess where – the state constitution. It starts in the General Assembly, whose members vote, not for or against the amendment, but whether to put it before a vote of the people.
Article XIII says the power to amend the constitution lies with the people of North Carolina. But that action must be initiated by the General Assembly with a three–fifths approval vote of all the members in order to submit the proposed amendment to the voters. The legislature can determine the date of the election on a proposed amendment.
North Carolina’s current Constitution has been amended 37 times. Some examples are lowering the voting age to 18 in 1971, requiring a balanced state budget in 1977, granting the governor veto power in 1995, and defining marriage in 2011.
This year’s General Assembly has some ideas about amending the state constitution, too. More than 20 bills proposing a state constitutional amendment of some kind have been introduced this session. Because constitutional amendment bills are eligible to be filed at any time and are not subject to deadlines, any of these could be considered before adjournment.
Eight amendments would make changes to elections — create an independent redistricting commission, require the governor and lieutenant governor to run as a team, or replace the superintendent of public instruction and State Board of Education with a new secretary of education.
Six amendments would limit spending and taxes. Eminent domain and property rights protection are the subject of three proposed amendments. Two would guarantee lottery funds are used for education. A couple more would set a state minimum wage. For all those wildlife constitutionalists, one would protect the right to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife. One of the amendments filed most recently would protect a person’s right to carry a concealed weapon.
Most of these have not been heard in committee or received much attention past the date they were filed. An exception to that is an amendment to drop the cap on the state’s personal income tax rate from 10 percent to 5.5 percent. The Senate pulled the bill back from a floor vote but indicated that senators might revisit the issue before the short session ends. If it passes, voters would see the amendment on the November ballot.
Amending the Constitution is serious business and should be done thoughtfully and carefully. At the John Locke Foundation, we welcome ideas, full debate, rigorous research, and data-driven crafting of changes to our constitution.
Regular readers here know that we have advocated for constitutionally protected property rights and, for more than a decade, urged consideration of an amendment placing limits on use of eminent domain. Will this be the year? There’s always a chance, until the final gavel comes down.
And if not this year, we’ll be back — fighting for your rights and defending the state constitution. We’re so committed to celebrating, studying, and preserving our state’s constitutional rights and principles that we have an online encyclopedia (NorthCarolinaHistory.org) dedicated to North Carolina’s rich constitutional history and stories.
JLF is the only source for a hard copy of the N.C. Constitution. Contact me to learn more, including how you can get your own copy of the state constitution.
Becki Gray (@BeckiGray) is vice president for outreach at the John Locke Foundation.
Here’s a list of constitutional amendments filed in the N.C. General Assembly this biennium and eligible for consideration:
1. Prohibit homeowners’ associations from foreclosing on real property for unpaid association dues, to allow homeowners’ associations to obtain judgments for past-due assessments, and to allow for setoff against state income tax returns for past-due assessments. (House Bill 931)
2. Establish an independent redistricting commission to prepare redistricting plans after the 2030 census and thereafter. (Senate Bill 28)
3. Limits on the growth of state spending. (H.B. 929)
4. Require that all changes made by the General Assembly to the forms of government and electoral district boundaries for counties, cities, and school boards shall be by referendum only, and to provide that all changes made by city governing boards to the city’s form of government shall be by referendum only. (H.B. 179)
5. Set the state minimum wage. (S.B. 347)
6. Have the Governor and Lieutenant Governor run as a team on the general election ballot. (H.B. 344)
7. Protect those whose property is being taken by eminent domain by providing that when a local government condemnor is not an elected board, a majority of the elected boards appointing it must approve filing of the condemnation action. (S.B. 380)
8. Provide for taxpayer protections that limit the growth of state spending, establish a state emergency savings reserve fund, and reduce the maximum of the income tax rate to 5 percent from 10 percent. (S.B. 607)
9. Prohibit condemnation of private property except for a public use, to provide for the payment of just compensation with right of trial by jury in all condemnation cases. (S.B. 74)
10. Simplify the management of public primary and secondary education by providing for a secretary of education to replace the current system of a superintendent of public instruction and a state board of education. (S.B. 94)
11. Protect the right to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife. (S.B. 889)
12. Require a two-thirds vote for the General Assembly to levy state taxes. (H.B. 928)
13. Lower the age to run [for elected office]. (H.B. 990)
14. Provide that the maximum tax rate on incomes cannot exceed 5.5 percent. (S.B. 817)
15. Authorize an official other than a district attorney to request a special prosecutor. (H.B. 935)
16. Set the state minimum wage and provide for automatic cost-of-living adjustments. (H.B. 1046)
17. Require a specific portion of lottery proceeds to be allocated to pre-K and higher education assistance programs. (S.B. 602)
18. Amend the income tax laws of the state in anticipation of a constitutional amendment to make clear that the constitutional amendment applies only to the percentage rate of tax imposed and not other changes affecting income tax liability. (S.B. 606)
19. Provide that a person must have the consent of the prosecutor in addition to the consent of the trial judge to waive the person’s right to a jury trial in Superior Court for a noncapital offense. (H.B. 115)
20. Provide that candidates for judgeships must have a least five years’ experience as licensed attorneys. (House Bill #213)
21. Guarantee that lottery funds are used to supplement and not supplant other funding for public educational purposes. (H.B. 788)
22. Protect a person’s right to carry a concealed weapon. (H.B. 1148)