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UPDATED: In voice vote, House favors bill to sidestep court ruling on ethics commission/elections board combination

UPDATE (by Melissa Boughton): The House Committee on Ethics and Elections Law gave Senate Bill 68 a favorable review today via a voice vote.

Democrats expressed concern that the bill, an amendment to an unrelated measure titled Student Attendance/Page Program Recognition, was moving too quickly as they had just been given the document at 10:45 p.m. the previous night.

“When we’re dealing with a bill of this magnitude, we should never rush it,” said Rep. Grier Martin (D-Wake).

Rep. David Lewis (R-Harnett), who sponsors the bill, said he’d like to have it passed before the Easter break next week. He said the intent of the bill is to have the Elections and Ethics Boards function as bipartisan as possible.

The difference between SB68 and SB4, which was struck down by the courts about a month ago, is that the eight-member “bipartisan” board would require a 5-member quorum for election issues (SB4 required a 6-member quorum), or a simple majority. Ethics issues would still require a 6-member quorum.

The other difference is that Gov. Roy Cooper would be able to appoint all eight members of the new board with recommendations from the two majority political parties. As the bill is written, individuals registered unaffiliated would not be permitted to serve on the new board.

Democrats at the committee meeting said SB68 was Republicans’ way of bypassing the appeals process of SB4 and accused them of being afraid of losing again in the courts.

You can read more about a three-judge panel’s decision to rule SB4 unconstitutional here.

You can read about SB4 here, and compare it to SB68 here.

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A little over two weeks ago, a special three-judge panel of the state Superior Court struck down as unconstitutional legislation enacted during a pre-Christmas special session of the General Assembly that would have merged the state Board of Elections and Ethics Commission into a new, combined state agency called the Bipartisan State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement. Among other things, the judges found that the new creation infringed on the Governor’s executive powers because, as an administrative agency, it must be under the Governor’s control and the leaders of the new creation were to be appointed in large measure by the General Assembly.

Today, lawmakers in the House will take up a new bill that’s emerged out of nowhere to take another stab at establishing the new entity. The new bill will be taken up as an amendment to an unrelated measure this afternoon in the House Committee on Ethics and Elections Law. The new proposal appears to vest more appointment powers in the Governor. Whether it would satisfy the court ruling and the demands of the constitution remains unclear at this point. Stay tuned for more updates as the day progresses.

Click here to see the proposed bill.

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