NCGA Special Session Ends With Amendments on the Table
Topics could re-emerge in November or ‘short session’ next year
RALEIGH — Despite preliminary plans to consider up to four constitutional amendments during a special session this week, state lawmakers adjourned Wednesday morning without taking final votes on three of them.
The sole winning amendment — one that defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman — will appear on the primary ballot in May next year for approval by voters.
The remaining amendments aren’t dead in the water. An adjournment resolution approved by the Senate and House ensures that one of them — term limits for top legislative leaders — still will be eligible for consideration when the legislature returns for another brief session Nov. 7.
The others, including one to curb state and local governments’ eminent domain powers, could be considered during the legislature’s “short session” that convenes next year.
In the closing hours of this week’s special session, Democrats tried to deliver a rhetorical roundhouse kick to the Republican majority for convening the session in the first place.
“This session is indeed one of the biggest wastes ever to hit the North Carolina legislature,” said House Minority Leader Joe Hackney, D-Orange. “There has been nothing of substance accomplished except to put North Carolina in a negative light in terms of business and nationally, and it should not have been held.”
Marriage on the ballot
Hackney’s reference was to Senate Bill 514, Defense of Marriage, which bans same-sex marriage. Following a bipartisan vote (75-42) in the House on Monday, the Senate passed the amendment along party lines (30-16) Tuesday.
Three Democratic senators — Eric Mansfield of Cumberland County, Michael Walters of Robeson County, and Stan White of Dare County — had excused absences. On the Republican side, Sen. Fletcher Hartsell of Cabarrus County also had an excused absence.
During debate on the Senate floor, freshman Republican Sen. E.S. “Buck” Newton of Wilson County said that the deterioration of the family costs the state money. He pointed to statistics showing that most of the economically healthiest states have marriage amendments.
“The constitution is the peoples’ document, and we should give them the ultimate authority in this,” Newton said.
Democrats and homosexual-rights advocates cited opposition by a host of business officials to the amendment.
If a majority of voters approves the amendment in May, it will be added to the constitution.
Term limits uncertainty
Earlier this year, the House passed a constitutional amendment that, if ratified, would restrict the House Speaker and Senate President Pro Tem to no more than two consecutive terms in power. The proposal was a top priority for House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, and legislators were expected to vote on it this week.
Rather than take up measure already approved, however, the Senate took another constitutional amendment passed by the House — this one addressing governance of the state Department of Public Instruction — and replaced it with new term-limits language. The revised bill limits leaders to four terms in office rather than two.
After voting not to concur with the Senate version, the House appointed a conference committee to resolve differences, but the Senate didn’t follow suit in time to create a compromise. The bill could reemerge when the legislature convenes in November.
David N. Bass is an associate editor of Carolina Journal.