Congress

NC GOP finish bills to thwart new governor’s power

A protestor shouts as she is arrested outside the House gallery during a special session of the N.C. General Assembly at the Legislative Building in Raleigh, N.C., Friday, Dec. 16, 2016.
A protestor shouts as she is arrested outside the House gallery during a special session of the N.C. General Assembly at the Legislative Building in Raleigh, N.C., Friday, Dec. 16, 2016. ehyman@newsobserver.com

State legislators wrapped up their work Friday on a pair of controversial bills that would deprive the incoming governor of a substantial part of his power to make appointments, and reshuffle the regulation of lobbyists, ethics complaints and elections. Gov. Pat McCrory signed one of the bills a short time later.

Less than an hour into the House’s morning session, about 100 protesters began chanting and were cleared from the gallery. They continued to shout outside the House chamber, and law enforcement officers had to clear the area and make arrests. The protest was a smaller but highly vocal repeat of Thursday’s protests, and briefly brought the House deliberations to halt. Protests and more arrests moved the Senate later in the day.

As the day wore on, several emotional House Republicans lashed out at the protesters, while Democrats defended them.

The House approved Senate Bill 4 67-23, and sent it to the Senate for final approval. The Senate signed off on it in the early afternoon and sent it to the governor, who signed it.

McCrory has not said whether he will sign another controversial bill, House Bill 17, which requires confirmation hearings for the new governor’s Cabinet officials and prevents him from appointing members of the UNC system schools boards of trustees.

Democrats disputed the Republican claims that SB4 would create a bipartisan commission merging the current State Board of Elections, State Ethics Commission and the lobbying functions of the Secretary of State’s office.

Democrats said it couldn’t be called bipartisan because they weren’t involved in creating the proposal. Republicans call it bipartisan because it would create a state board and county election boards comprised of members equally split between the parties. It would also deprive the incoming Democratic administration of control of those boards; currently, the administration can appoint three of the five state members and two of the three members on each county board.

Democrats also argued that the bill is far-reaching and should be discussed in more detail in the long session next year. Republican sponsors said the ideas in the bill have been discussed in the legislature for years, and that this is a good time to make the changes because there is no impending election.

The bill would also give Gov. Pat McCrory the authority to make a one-time appointment to fill a vacancy on the state Industrial Commission for a six-year term plus the unexpired portion of the commissioner’s term. Normally, a vacancy replacement only fills out the remainder of a term.

It would also identify state Supreme Court candidates by party in primary elections.

On Friday, Rep. Graig Meyer, a Hillsborough Democrat, calleld the bill “a blatant political move by a party that must be afraid of voters so they hang on to what power they have.”

Tensions from the acrimonious debates of the week and the protest disruptions seeped onto the House floor throughout the day. Rep. Nelson Dollar, a Republican from Cary, disputed the portrayal by opponents and liberal commentators of GOP strategy to reduce the governor’s authority as a “coup.” He repeated the oft-heard response from Republicans that Democrats used every maneuver they could to keep the minority party under their thumb for decades.

“This isn’t mob rule,” Dollar said. “It’s majority rule. ... This is no coup. Every member was elected in a constitutional way.”

Rep. Robert Reives, a Democrat from Sanford, said he was tired of hearing that Republicans were just doing what Democrats did.

“I do not give a rat’s rear what somebody did 20 years ago that called themselves a Democrat,” Reives said. “Nobody tell me it’s OK for me to do that because some guy 20 years ago did that. ... Parties change, people change.”

While in past protests legislators have largely ignored the disruptions, on Friday, anger broke lose and several Republicans criticized the protesters, saying they prevented school field trips and the general public from watching the proceedings.

“This whole day is a day that will be burned in my memory,” said Michael Speciale, a Republican from New Bern. “What happened up there this morning was unacceptable. That their views are the only views in North Carolina that we should represent.”

The final piece of business for the General Assembly this special session appeared to be a resolution appointing Yolanda Stith, wife of McCrory chief of staff Thomas Stith, to a vacancy on the Industrial Commission. The vacancy is due to the departure of former secretary of the Department of Administration Bill Daughtridge for health reasons.

The Industrial Commission hears appeals of worker compensation cases.

She is the executive director of the North Carolina Association of Long Term Care Facilities, and was previously a lobbyist.

House Democrats said they had nothing against Yolanda Stith but they protest this special session as unconstitutional and so voted against her confirmation.

Craig Jarvis: 919-829-4576, @CraigJ_NandO

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