RALEIGH — The week in Raleigh closed with Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper vetoing two Republican bills — one that would cut the state appeals court by three members and another that would change the state elections board.
The vetoes were received Friday by the General Assembly, where overrides appear likely. Republicans hold veto-proof majorities in the House and Senate and have been fighting Cooper on several fronts even before he took office.
House Bill 239 would reduce the state Court of Appeals from 15 to 12 members, preventing Cooper from filling upcoming court vacancies. Senate Bill 68 would consolidate the state elections and ethics boards. The new board would have eight members, four from each major political party. The bill denies the governor’s political party control of the elections board. A three-court panel struck down an earlier attempt by Republicans to merge the boards.
In his veto message, Cooper said the new elections and ethics board would lead to gridlock. “This is the same unconstitutional legislation in another package, and it’s an attempt to make it harder for people to register and vote.”
Cooper also said Republicans are trying to politicize the courts. “Having three fewer judges will increase the court’s workload and delay timely appeals. Just as bad is the real motivation of Republican legislators, which is to stack the court with judges of their own party.”
House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger said in a statement said Cooper is fighting bipartisan cooperation.
“North Carolinians deserve a bipartisan ethics and elections board with an equal number of Democrats and Republicans to govern without partisan motivations, but Roy Cooper wants to rig the system for his own benefit, just like when he packed the Court of Appeals with Democrats while serving in the legislature,” they said.
IN OTHER BUSINESS:
Rural Incentives: North Carolina has paid out millions of dollars to businesses over two decades for creating jobs in the state, and some lawmakers say the system too often rewards companies moving to the state’s most affluent counties. A proposal to redirect state financial incentives — to encourage companies to move to poorer counties — passed a state Senate committee Thursday. But some lawmakers and the N.C. Secretary of Commerce warned that the proposal, Senate Bill 660, would do little to help economically distressed counties and would instead undermine the ability of job-magnets like the Triangle and Charlotte to continue attracting high-paying jobs. Supporters say using incentives to reward not only job creation but also geographical selection would restore the original intent of incentives: to help poor counties compete for jobs. Since 2003, the state has paid out almost $200 million for the creation of 37,852 new jobs and retention of 66,538 existing jobs, according to the Department of Commerce Economic Development Grant Report. Of the 56 grants awarded during that time period, 36 went to the 20 wealthiest counties in the state
Legal Notices: A Senate proposal to let all North Carolina local governments post required legal notices on their websites instead of in newspapers cleared two committees this week in Raleigh, despite worries from media representatives that it will limit public information access and harm bottom lines. The measure allows cities and counties to post items online such as zoning and annexation proposals, vendor contracts and public hearings if a local government body approves an ordinance allowing such electronic publication. A full Senate vote could come early next week. John Bussian with the North Carolina Press Association told the committee the measure would essentially eliminate the public’s right to know what their local governments are doing. Many people, especially in rural areas, lack reliable internet access, he said.
Bag Ban: The latest attempt to roll back North Carolina’s plastic bag ban for Outer Banks communities in Dare, Currituck and Hyde Counties has been added to a bill covering a range of proposed changes to the state’s environmental regulations. Sen. Bill Cook, R-Beaufort, told a Senate committee that the ban had failed to change consumer habits. The ban is aimed at controlling the number of plastic bags floating through beach areas by requiring stores to use brown paper bags or asking consumers to bring reusable bags. Efforts to repeal the 2009 ban, which was championed by former Senate leader Marc Basnight, D-Dare, have come up since Republicans took control of the General Assembly in 2011. The proposal now heads to another committee for consideration.
Right to Work: North Carolina is already a “right to work” state that has banned mandatory union dues since 1947, but House Republicans want to have it added to the state constitution. If the bill passes both the House and Senate, voters would decide in November 2018 if the state law governing union activity should be added to the constitution. The law bans employers from requiring their workers to join a labor organization or pay dues to a group. Democrats argue the amendment is unnecessary. “This changes absolutely nothing,” said Rep. Duane Hall, D-Wake. “I don’t see any reason that our constitution needs to be as thick as our statutes.”
Charlotte Mayor: The two Democrats challenging incumbent Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts could take an unusual step: one would drop out to give the other a better chance in September’s primary. State Sen. Joel Ford and Mayor Pro Tem Vi Lyles confirmed Thursday that they’ve talked about the possibility. “We agreed on two things,” Ford told The Charlotte Observer. “One is that Jennifer needs to go, and only one of us needs to run.” The maneuvering comes ahead of North Carolina’s highest profile race of the year, one that already has drawn national attention. Charlotte was the epicenter of the debate over transgender rights and House Bill 2, passed in response to a 2016 Charlotte ordinance which Roberts supported.
Flu Deaths: North Carolina health officials say five more people have died from the flu in the state, including one pediatric death. The latest figures reported on Thursday by the state Department of Health and Human Services says the deaths during the week ending April 15 raise the death toll for the 2016-2017 season to 179. It’s the fewest deaths in a week since eight deaths were reported during the week ending March 25.
Rural Broadband: Local governments would be allowed to lease wired and wireless network infrastructure to private internet providers under a bill that passed the N.C. House on Thursday. The bill’s main goal is expanding access to high-speed, broadband internet in rural areas of the state where it’s often too expensive for private service providers to extend their lines. The bill does not allow local governments to offer internet service directly to customers or set up services that compete with private internet providers. Bill sponsors say cities, towns and counties could make use of what’s known as “dark fiber” — additional capacity in existing infrastructure that government uses to connect traffic lights, schools and public facilities. The bill now goes to the Senate.
Toll Lanes: The state’s new consultant for the Interstate 77 toll lanes project near Charlotte will study ways the controversial contract could be changed, including multi-use discounts for frequent commuters and possibly converting some of the toll lanes to free lanes. Gov. Roy Cooper’s Department of Transportation has hired Philadelphia-based Mercator Advisors to study possible improvements to the contract with I-77 Mobility Partners, a subsidiary of Cintra. Any changes could cost the state tens or hundreds of millions of dollars, and it’s unclear whether the DOT will move forward with any of the modifications. But for now, Mercator will study the impact of terminating the 50-year agreement with Cintra, changing the $655 million contract, or buying the toll lanes entirely and the right to collect toll revenue.
Disputed Session: The advocacy group Common Cause and 10 individual plaintiffs have filed a lawsuit against the state, arguing that lawmakers violated the state constitution when they called the fourth special session of 2016. Specifically, they say the session was called with little notice to the public while wrapping up work on the third special session of the year, which dealt with Hurricane Matthew relief. “They provided no advance notice of the session, and no notice of the topics that would be addressed,” said Burton Craige, a lawyer representing the plaintiffs. He pointed to a provision in the state constitution that gives people the right to “instruct their representatives.” There was no way to exercise that right, he said, with so little notice of the session. The lawsuit asks that the laws passed during the special session be thrown out. Two laws seen by critics as infringing on the powers of incoming Gov. Roy Cooper were passed during the special session.
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Compiled by the Insider State Government News Service for the member papers of the Capitol Press Association. Learn more at NCInsider.com and @NCInsider.