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A bill by any other name: House passes another elections, ethics merge measure

Republican House lawmakers passed a bill Thursday evening that would merge the State Elections Board and State Ethics Commission, despite a court’s ruling a few weeks ago that the move was unconstitutional.

Senate Bill 68, which is actually titled Student Attendance/Page Program Recognition (lawmakers amended it Monday to fast-track approval), passed 68 to 42.

Democrats protested that the bill was moving too fast, would likely lead to deadlocks on important elections and ethics issues and almost certainly would lead to more litigation.

The merge of the two governmental agencies would become one new “bipartisan” board consisting of four Democrats and four Republicans. Gov. Roy Cooper could appoint all members from a list of names provided by the two political parties. As written, unaffiliated voters could not serve on the board.

Cooper has said he will veto the bill if it reaches his desk. He also wrote a post online earlier this week addressing the bill.

A three-panel judge ruled that merging the agencies in Senate Bill 4 was an unconstitutional power grab from the executive branch, but Republicans insist the differences between that bill and SB68 address the judiciary’s concerns.

The difference between the two is that the 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 Cooper could appoint all eight members, where in SB4, he could only appoint half the members and lawmaker would appoint the other half.

Rep. Henry Michaux Jr. (D-Durham) said the bill was another measure “being passed in the middle of the night” and an attempt to bypass the court’s ruling.

“It’s an abomination; it’s a travesty what you’re trying to do now,” he said.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. David Lewis (R-Harnett), defended the legislation and said “no less than eight” other states have similar mergers.

House Democratic Leader Darren Jackson (D-Wake) said the Republicans were determined to continue power grabbing from Cooper, and warned there would be legal consequences.

“This is just foregoing one litigation for another one that’s sure to follow,” he said.

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