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State commission explains two constitutional amendments; punts on four more as they await court hearing

Attorney General Josh Stein, Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, and Legislative Services Officer Paul Coble flesh out the descriptions on two constitutional amendments. (Photo: Joe Killian)

Members of a key state commission on Monday fleshed out descriptions for two of the six controversial constitutional amendments on the ballot this fall.

Yet the Constitutional Amendments Publication Commission, which is tasked with crafting succinct descriptions of each amendment, will wait to write descriptions of four others that prompted lawsuits this week [2].

The short descriptions will be distributed through the county-level elections offices and through voter guides mailed to more than four million North Carolina voters. The commission would have also crafted short captions for each amendment appearing on the ballot this fall, but the GOP-controlled General Assembly seized that authority just days ago during an ongoing power struggle with Gov. Roy Cooper and other North Carolina Democrats.

The commission consists of three members: Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, Attorney General Josh Stein, both Democrats, and Legislative Services Officer Paul Coble, representing the General Assembly. The group’s meeting last week became a non-voting work session when Coble did not attend, preventing a necessary quorum. Coble said he wanted to wait until a weekend veto-override session [3] that would decide the fate of the law transferring caption authority to the legislature.

On Monday, it was Stein who wanted to wait, suggesting that the commission move forward on descriptions for two of the proposed amendments but delaying the other four to give the courts “breathing room” as they consider the lawsuits.

“I am concerned for the independent review of the courts,” Stein said. “I think it’s better if we hold off on those four.”

Coble objected, saying the commission should plow ahead on all of the descriptions as nothing may come of the suits.

“I think we have a duty to write the summaries,” Coble said. “If they are challenged in court, they are challenged in court. But what if they are not overturned? We have not written anything.”

With Coble out-voted, the commission moved ahead with changes to the amendments dealing with the right to hunt and fish and the rights of crime victims.

While Coble occasionally objected to a proposed change as casting a negative light on the text or intent of an amendment, there were no major fireworks during the commission’s discussion of those two amendments.

Most of the language changes had to do with pointing out that the amendments did not define certain terms—“traditional methods” of hunting, for instance, which Stein pointed out could be interpreted as allowing hunters to set fires to drive game animals into the open. Other changes pointed out that the impact on local laws or on commercial hunting and fishing, in the case of that amendment—is not spelled out by the amendments themselves.

The full, adopted text of the amendments is as follows:

Session Law 2018-96

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.”

This right would be subject to laws passed by the Legislature and rules (i) to promote wildlife conservation and management and (ii) to preserve the future of hunting and fishing. If it passes, the amendment will not affect any laws regarding trespassing, property rights or eminent domain. The amendment does not address its effect on local laws concerning public safety or on commercial hunting and fishing.

The amendment would also establish that public hunting and fishing are a preferred means of managing and controlling wildlife.

This is just a short summary of the amendment. To see the actual amendment before voting on it, go to: [web link to be added]                                                      .

Adopted by the NC Constitutional Amendments Publication Commission on Monday, August 6, 2018.

Elaine F. Marshall, Secretary of State, Chair
Josh Stein, Attorney General, Member
Paul Y. Coble, Legislative Services Officer, Member

Session Law 2018-110

Currently, the North Carolina Constitution guarantees victims of certain crimes the following rights:

  • The right to be informed of and present at proceedings related to the accused.
  • The right to be heard at sentencing of the accused.
  • The right to receive restitution.
  • The right to information regarding the crime, how the criminal justice system works, and the rights and services available to victims.
  • The right to be informed about the final result of the case.
  • The right to be informed of an escape, release, or pardon.
  • The right to express views to the Governor or appropriate agency considering release.
  • The right to confer with the prosecutor.

If this amendment is adopted, the Constitution would also guarantee victims the following rights:

  • To be treated with dignity and respect.
  • Reasonable, accurate, and timely notice of a proceeding, upon request.
  • To be present at any proceeding, upon request.
  • To be reasonably heard at additional kinds of court hearings.
  • Restitution in a reasonably timely manner, when ordered by the court.
  • Information about the crime, upon request.
  • To reasonably confer with the prosecutor.

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 amendment would expand the types of offenses that trigger victims’ rights to include all crimes against the person and felony property crimes. These rights would also apply in these cases if committed by juveniles.

This amendment directs the Legislature to create a procedure, by motion to the court, for a victim to assert his or her rights. Nothing in this proposed amendment creates a claim against the State or allows the victim to challenge any decision the court makes. The defendant may not use failure to provide these rights as a ground for relief in any civil or criminal matter.

The public fiscal note that accompanied this legislation estimates that these changes to our justice system will cost about $11 million per year.

This is just a short summary of the amendment. To see the actual amendment before voting on it, go to: https:// [4] [Web address to be determined]                                                     .

Adopted by the NC Constitutional Amendments Publication Commission on Monday, August 6, 2018.

Elaine F. Marshall, Secretary of State, Chair
Josh Stein, Attorney General, Member
Paul Y. Coble, Legislative Services Officer, Member

The commission recessed Monday without a clear idea of when they would reconvene to take up the other four proposed amendments, which are due for their first court hearings Monday afternoon and Tuesday. The commission has until 75 days before the election to complete its work.

“We just have more work to do,” Coble said. “ And we will get to it whenever we have further clarity on the actions that are going to be taken today.”

He left after the meeting, declining to take questions from reporters.

Coble declined to take questions from reporters.

Both Stein and Marshall stayed to answer questions and weigh in on the state of the commission’s work.

Marshall objected to comments from legislative leaders, made over the weekend, that she and Stein couldn’t be trusted to be objective in descriptions of the amendment. Marshall pointed to her work on numerous other amendments—including the controversial 2012 amendment that made same-sex marriage unconstitutional in North Carolina.

Though that amendment was later upended by a Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide, Marshall said her work in crafting a neutral description of the amendment in a politically charged environment was not a problem. There is no reason to question it now, she said.

“I’ve done this before, I’ve done it well,” Marshall said. “When you put the facts out there, if it does sting somebody…that’s their problem.”

Marshall said changing the state constitution is serious business, unlike the changing of any other law.

“It needs to be abundantly clear to the people, when they cast that precious vote, as to what their vote means,” Marshall said.

Stein said he was happy with the collaborative work the commission was able to do on the two amendments that aren’t subject to litigation.

“There is nothing more important than changing our bedrock legal document – our state constitution,” Stein said. “If voters are going to make that change, they need to have a very clear understanding of what it means. And I think today we’re showing we can do that work.”