The Week in Raleigh: New, Smaller UNC Board of Governors Takes Shape

Members of the North Carolina House of Representatives submit rarely-used paper ballots in the election of members to the UNC Board of Governors on April 5, 2017. (Clifton Dowell | NCInsider.com)

RALEIGH — The Board of Governors of the University of North Carolina will have eight new members and four incumbents for 12 seats, following an election by the legislature that saw more turnover than usual. On Wednesday, the state House elected six members to the board, including two Republican former lawmakers.

The next board will remain overwhelmingly Republican and male, with five seats occupied by former legislators. Not counting the student representative, who does not have a vote, the board will have six women, four African-Americans and one American Indian among its 28 members. Women will comprise 21 percent of the board, but 57 percent of UNC system students are female.

The legislature recently acted to downsize the board from 32 members to 28 this year, making the race for board seats more competitive. The board will be reduced to 24 members in 2019.

During the debate on shrinking the body, African-American lawmakers raised concerns about the possibility of less diversity on a board that governs a system with five historically black campuses and one historically American Indian university. In the end, the number of black members will remain the same, and an American Indian member will be added.

The process of choosing members saw more upheaval this year, especially considering that the Republicans have controlled the board elections since 2011. Three incumbents were not re-elected by the House.

Those elected by the House on Wednesday are: Kellie Hunt Blue of Pembroke, a county government finance director and chair of the UNC Pembroke trustees; Rob Bryan, a Charlotte business executive and former Republican House member who lost his re-election bid last year; Carolyn Lloyd Coward, an attorney from Arden and trustee of Western Carolina University; Leo Daughtry, a Smithfield attorney and retired Republican lawmaker; Wendy Murphy of Wallace, a longtime UNC Wilmington trustee; Doyle Parrish, a Raleigh businessman and incumbent member who will serve a second term.

The new members, along with six elected from the state Senate, will take office this summer on the governing board that oversees the 17-campus public university system in North Carolina. It is one of the most sought-after appointments in the state.

The Senate-elected members are: Former Raleigh mayor and former state Republican Party chair Tom Fetzer, now a lobbyist from Wilmington; Steve Long, a Raleigh attorney; Marty Kotis of Summerfield, a real estate investor and restaurateur; Randall Ramsey, owner of a boat building company in Beaufort; former Sen. Bob Rucho, a Republican from Matthews; Harry Smith, a Greenville business executive; Kotis, Long and Smith are incumbents.

IN OTHER BUSINESS:

Elections Rewrite: The state House voted along party lines to retool a Republican law struck down by a court that combined elections and ethics duties into one board, which its chief proponent says he hopes would settle the matter without legal appeals. But Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who sued over the original law that he argues prevented him from overseeing elections, said he’ll veto the reworked measure if it reaches his desk and threatened legal action again if necessary “to protect the integrity of our electoral system.” The bill “is the latest GOP attempt to curtail voting rights in North Carolina,” Cooper wrote online hours before the House voted 68-42 for the measure, which now goes to the Senate for consideration.

HB2 Aftermath: The NCAA has “reluctantly” agreed to consider North Carolina as a host for championship events again after the state rolled back a law that limited protections for LGBT people. The governing body said Tuesday its Board of Governors had reviewed moves to repeal the “bathroom bill” and replace it with a compromise law. The NCAA offered a lukewarm endorsement, saying the new law “meets the minimal NCAA requirements.”

Victims’ Rights: Lawmakers are confident a constitutional amendment strengthening victims’ rights in the state can pass the General Assembly and make its way to voters in time for the 2018 election. The measure Rep. Nelson Dollar, R-Wake, said there has been a national push by the group Marsy’s Law for All to see how states can strengthen their constitutions to support victims. Similar legislation has already passed in California, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Illinois.

Legislative Terms: House lawmakers voted down a proposal to extend legislators’ terms to four years while adding term limits. House Bill 193 would have scheduled a November 2018 constitutional referendum on the proposal. Voters would be asked if they want to give legislators four-year terms — instead of the current two-year terms — and limit lawmakers to three terms in office, or 12 years total. The House Elections Committee rejected the bill in a 10-13 vote, with some Republicans joining Democrats in opposition. “I want to be able to replace my representative if they come up here and they don’t do the job they said they were going to do,” said Rep. Michael Speciale, R-Craven.

Tobacco Restrictions: A bipartisan group of House members is testing the winds of socioeconomic change in North Carolina with a bill that would raise the smoking and vaping age to 21. The bill covers all tobacco and tobacco-derived products, electronic cigarettes and vaporizers, and cigarette wrapping papers. It would take effect Jan. 1 if signed into law and carves out an exemption for active military personnel and contains a grandfather clause for those born in 1998 and 1999.

Impact Fees: As new residents continue to pour into the state’s metropolitan areas, cities and towns have come to rely on fees levied on developers to help pay for roads, utilities and other public services that their growing communities need. Now a bill in the General Assembly would end that practice. The bill, filed by Rep. Sarah Stevens, an attorney from Mt. Airy, would nix the ability of counties and municipalities statewide to impose regulatory fees, including impact fees, on new construction. “It’s a disaster for all towns,” said Dick Sears, mayor of Holly Springs, which has been using impact fees for years. The bill follows a state Supreme Court decision that found the town of Carthage in Moore County exceeded its authority when it charged impact fees to pay for expanded water and sewer service.

School Calendars: The House has taken up a pair of bills that would allow at least some local school districts to start their academic years in mid-August. One proposal would create a three-year study allowing as many as 20 counties to begin their school years no earlier than the Monday closest to Aug. 10 while the other would let schools set opening dates as early as Aug. 15 in order to align with their local community college calendars. School calendar bills have long been the focus of raucous legislative battles at the General Assembly. “There’s obviously a demand at the local level for some degree of calendar flexibility,” said Rep. Harry Warren, R-Rowan, pointing to dozens of bills filed in the House and Senate that would give local school districts the right to set their own calendars.

Flu Deaths: Health officials in North Carolina say 15 more people died from the flu in the past week. The latest report from the state Department of Health and Human Services is almost double the eight deaths which were reported last week. It’s also the seventh time in eight weeks that at least 10 people died from the flu in the state. Also, the report said there was a slight decline in instances of the flu in the state during the week. For the season, the death toll from the flu is at 156. Last year, 59 people died from the flu in North Carolina.

Legal Notices: State legislators are again sparring over whether public legal notices — such as foreclosure and government contract bidding announcements — must appear in newspapers or just on government websites. Rep. Stephen Ross, R-Alamance, filed what he calls a compromise bill Wednesday to resolve the issue. He says his proposed legal notice requirements would “preserve the right to know for all North Carolinians.” While a Republican-sponsored bill in the House and Senate would allow local governments and attorneys to instead post notices on government websites, Ross’ bill would keep the current requirement to publish notices on classified ad pages in local newspapers. “This bill will ensure that legal notices will be distributed far beyond the reach of any government website and can reach those without internet service,” Ross said.

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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 or @NCInsider.