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Dems: Surprise Legislative Proposals, GOP Power Grab Undermine Will of NC Voters

Governor-elect Roy Cooper held a press conference today regarding the General Assembly’s “power grab.” See GOP’s response here. 

Release from ACLU-NC

ACLULeaders of the North Carolina General Assembly last night called a surprise special session to introduce legislation that would make sweeping changes to the state’s Board of Elections, Court of Appeals, judicial elections, executive branch appointments and more. Lawmakers had earlier reconvened to allocate funding for victims of Hurricane Matthew and other natural disasters but gave no advance notice of the second special session and additional legislation. 

“These shameful partisan tricks undermine the will of North Carolina voters, waste precious taxpayer dollars, and will further erode the public’s trust in our state government,” said Karen Anderson, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of North Carolina. “As we saw earlier this year with the surprise introduction and passage of the discriminatory, anti-LGBT House Bill 2, extreme legislation that is forced through without proper vetting and debate can have disastrous consequences for North Carolina. Such significant changes to our state’s elections and judicial systems should never be planned in secret and sprung on the public without advance notice. It’s particularly disgraceful that lawmakers have exploited the victims of Hurricane Matthew for partisan gain. These latest proposals could undercut the civil liberties of all North Carolinians.” 

Earlier this year, North Carolina lawmakers convened a $42,000 one-day special session to introduce and pass House Bill 2, one of the nation’s most extreme laws targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people for discrimination, which prohibits local municipalities from extending nondiscrimination protections to LGBT people and bans many transgender people from public restrooms and other facilities that match their gender. The measure was introduced, passed, and signed into law in 12 hours. HB2 is being challenged in court by LGBT North Carolinians represented by the ACLU and Lambda Legal and has cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars in lost business.

Among other changes, SB4, one of the pieces of legislation introduced yesterday, would

  • Expand the number of officials on state and county boards of election from five and three to eight and four, respectively, increasing the likelihood of deadlocked votes on crucial matters of voting rights and ballot access.
  • Remove the ability of individuals to appeal a trial court’s decision directly to the State Supreme Court and create a new process for the Court of Appeals to hear cases en banc, adding an unnecessary layer of gridlock to an already overworked court system.
  • Make the nonpartisan North Carolina Supreme Court elections partisan races, further politicizing a body designed to impartially administer the law.

Also see New York Times article

N.C. Democratic Party release

NC Republicans Propose Unprecedented Power Grab

Raleigh, NC – After Governor Pat McCrory was voted out of office in an historic election, North Carolina Republicans are attempting to thwart the will of the voters and take back power they have lost. 

“This is an unprecedented, shameful and cowardly power grab from Republicans. After losing the Governor’s office, the GOP-controlled General Assembly is attempting to hold on to the power that voters took away from them. Make no mistake, the legislation we are seeing today are attempts from Republicans to usurp power from Governor-elect Roy Cooper after losing the election. Republicans should be ashamed of these unprecedented power grabs that have no place in our democracy,” said NCDP spokesman Jamal Little. 

With no advance notice, in a surprise 4th special session, House Republicans introduced a whirlwind of bills to strip power from Governor-elect Cooper. 

Top 6 NCGOP Power Grabs

  1.     Making 1,200 McCrory political appointees permanent state employees

On November 8, North Carolinians voted for a change in their state government. With House Bill 17, The legislature is trying to violate the will of the people, by declaring that Governor-Elect Cooper will only be able to declare 300 state employees exempt, 1,200 employees fewer than Governor McCrory was afforded in 2013, and 100 fewer than under Gov. Perdue. Strikingly, it would not allow Governor-Elect Cooper to declare any positions exempt in the North Carolina Office of State Budget and Management or Office of Human Resources.

  1.     Giving the Senate unprecedented approval power over Cabinet Secretary appointees

House Bill 17 would require Senate approval of Governor-Elect Cooper’s cabinet appointments, an unprecedented infringement on the discretion given to North Carolina’s governors to pick their own cabinets. 

  1.     Needlessly giving control of Department of Information Technology to the Lt. Gov. 

Without explanation, House Bill 6 makes the Department of Information Technology an “independent” agency, whose chief executive is appointed by the Lieutenant Governor. This strips Governor McCrory of one of his proudest accomplishments, which was making DIT a cabinet agency.

  1.     Taking control of the board of elections. 

Currently, the county and state board of elections have a majority board from the Governor’s party.

SB4 would give power to the General Assembly to appoint half of the board. In election years, it would also set the Board’s chairperson as being from the party with fewer registered voters. The Republican Party currently trails the Democratic Party in party registrations by more than 600,000 voters. Effectively, this would guarantee Republican chairpersons in election cycles for years. 

  1.     Lame duck appointments

SB 4 would give lame duck Governor Pat McCrory the power to appoint the chair of the industrial commission before he leaves office. 

  1. Appointments for McCrory insiders 

Senate Bills 6 and 7 will give lame duck Governor Pat McCrory the power to appoint two Special Superior Court justices before he leaves office. One of the appointees, Andrew Heath, was Governor McCrory’s budget director, and has limited legal experience. 

Southern Coalition for Social Justice release

Legislative Rewrite of Judicial Elections and Election Board Composition Undermines Democratic Principles

SB 4 would usurp executive powers for partisan purposes

RALEIGH – State Sens. Rucho, Rabon and Tucker introduced SB 4 just hours after the legislature convened its fourth special session of the year.  Among its many provisions, SB 4 appears to: 

Overhaul the State Board of Elections and change the process for appointing members, creating the potential for deadlock on the eight-member board that could lead to limitations on early voting and other voting access issues, and increasing the General Assembly’s control over members of that independent state agency;

Alter the structure of county boards of elections from three to four members, further creating the potential for deadlock on election issues at the county level as well;

Remove the right to directly appeal to the N.C. Supreme Court unless the case is first heard en banc (by all 15 members) by the Court of Appeals, ensuring that all rulings are made by a majority of Republican judges before they ever get to the Supreme Court, delaying constitutional challenges to statutes enacted by the General Assembly and making it more expensive to win court cases challenging those statutes; and,

Make N.C. Supreme Court elections partisan, which will inject partisanship into elections for a nonpartisan judicial body charged with impartially interpreting and applying the law.

After the bill was introduced, Anita Earls, Executive Director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, issued the following statement:

“Instead of a court-packing bill, it appears we got a court-denial bill.  This proposal seems to delay Supreme Court review of cases, including those involving citizens’ constitutional rights.  Unconstitutional laws could be in effect for years before the State Supreme Court would finally get the case and rule.  It also means that every case will be ruled on first by a majority of Republican judges. This further encourages more partisanship instead of fostering an impartial judiciary.”

“Changing the State Board of Elections is also a partisan power grab that is not justified by any real need. The special legislative session was convened to address the needs of communities that were impacted by flooding and wildfires.  Using this session for partisan trickery is not only a waste of taxpayer money, it also uses disaster victims as political pawns.”

The full text of SB 4 can be found at: http://www.ncleg.net/gascripts/BillLookUp/BillLookUp.pl?Session=2015E4&BillID=s4&submitButton=Go