News

Cooper files lawsuit, motions to stop bill merging Elections Board, Ethics Commission

Two days after the General Assembly overrode his veto, Gov. Roy Cooper filed a lawsuit and requests to halt a bill that would merge the state Board of Elections and state Ethics Commission.

The lawsuit comes a little over a month after a three-judge panel already ruled the merge was unconstitutional. Instead of appealing the decision, Republican lawmakers rewrote the law (now Senate Bill 68), tweaked some language and passed it again.

“Undeterred by the judicial check on its unconstitutional actions, on April 25, 2017, the General Assembly enacted Session Law 2017-6, which repeals the acts enjoined in Cooper v. Berger and Moore, including the portions of Senate Bill 4 relating to the State Board of Elections, and enacts new provisions that again destroy the State Board of Elections and State Ethics Commission and replace them with an unconstitutionally structured and staffed new Bipartisan State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement (“New State Board”).

This General Assembly’s continued, direct attacks on executive authority unconstitutionally infringe on the Governor’s executive powers in violation of separation of powers, and improperly delegate legislative power without adequate guiding standards.”

You can read the 29-page lawsuit and motions for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction here.

To disempower the Governor’s Office would fail to respect the will of the electorate in selecting him as the state’s chief executive, the lawsuit states. The Constitutional allocation between the Governor’s Office and the legislature “must be protected, no matter the political affiliation of the Governor or the majority of the legislature.”

Cooper cites the Separation of Powers clause in the Constitution as grounds for the lawsuit, as well as the non-delegation doctrine.

He makes a motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction, which would halt the Ethics Commission and Elections Board merge until the lawsuit is resolved.

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore, defendants in the lawsuit, have not yet publicly commented on the new litigation.

House Democratic Leader Darren Jackson warned Republican lawmakers when they overrode the veto Monday that it would just lead to more litigation.

The litigation is costing taxpayers. The Insider news service reported earlier this week that lawmakers and Cooper’s office have paid or been billed more than $760,000 in attorneys’ fees since January related to lawsuits over Republicans’ power grabs.

The report states that General Assembly records show $405,000 in expenses from a law firm representing Berger and Moore, and information from Cooper shows $362,000 in expenses from a firm representing him.

Courts & the Law, News

Despite massive opposition, Republicans vote to override veto, reduce Court of Appeals

House Republicans voted today to override Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto and shrink the Court of Appeals despite opposition from just about everyone.

House Bill 239 would also increase the state Supreme Court’s caseload. It will now go to the Senate floor for a vote.

The House override comes two days after Judge Douglas McCullough, a registered Republican, retired early from the Court of Appeals to save the bench from an increased workload after the elimination of his seat at the end of May. He was facing mandatory retirement because of his age.

McCullough said he resigned because he was against HB 239 and he didn’t want his legacy to be the elimination of his seat. For more on his perspective, check NC Policy Watch tomorrow morning.

Cooper appointed Judge John Arrowood, a registered Democrat, to replace McCullough.

Several Democratic House members asked Republicans to vote against overriding Cooper’s veto of HB239. The most emotional plea came from Rep. Graig Meyer (D-Durham, Orange), who spoke about the process of adopting his oldest daughter.

HB239 would take so-called “3.1 appeals” (which involve juveniles and termination of parental rights), business appeals and class action appeals from the Court of Appeals and reroute them to the state Supreme Court.

In 2016, the Court of Appeals heard 201 3.1 appeals, 11 business appeals and 9 class action appeals, according to statistics from the court.

Meyer said that the cases involving juveniles would be delayed if moved to the Supreme Court and talked about the already great delay that exists, and how it affected his daughter.

He said HB 239 would greatly affect the children of North Carolina.

Democratic Leader Darren Jackson also talked about how complicated the cases involving juveniles are and how moving the cases would likely result in delay.

He pointed out how many people, Republicans and Democrats, had told GOP lawmakers that the bill was a bad idea.

House members ultimately voted 73-44 to override the veto. The Senate convenes at 5 p.m. today.

NC Budget and Tax Center

Report: Constitutional restrictions on revenue hurt state economies. So why is NC proposing one?

A new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) shows how constitutional revenue limits, like the one proposed in North Carolina by the Senate, can impede state economies. From the report:

“A strong state economy requires high-quality public services like schools, public colleges and universities, and well-maintained infrastructure, among other services. Businesses need well-educated and qualified workers. They need convenient and well-functioning roads, bridges, and ports. And they’re more likely to locate in places with a good quality of life that includes publicly financed amenities like parks and libraries.

“Nevertheless, some states are considering building into their state constitutions restrictions on the growth of state revenue that makes such public investments possible. These restrictions can hurt a state’s ability to provide necessary services to its residents and businesses, putting at risk long-term growth and broadly shared prosperity.”

You can read the full report here.

Commentary

Why have Tim Moore and Phil Berger turned their backs on this cause?

Common Cause NC executive director Bob Phillips addresses the media prior to today’s petition delivery at the General Assembly

There are a lot of  substantive areas in which the leaders of the North Carolina General Assembly have set new standards for hypocrisy and double talk in recent years. Nowhere, however, is this kind of behavior more blatant or maddening than it is in the field of political gerrymandering.

For years, both House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger sponsored legislation to end partisan gerrymandering and replace it with a nonpartisan redistricting system. Moore even helped pass such a bill out of the House a few years back after Republicans took control of the General Assembly.

In 2017, however, neither man can be bothered to lift a finger to even secure a committee hearing for the idea. At the same time that both leaders are helping to advance a seemingly endless list of destructive, unpopular and unconstitutional bills, good, popular and constitutional redistricting reform bills like House Bill 200 and Senate Bill 209 languish unheard and unseen.

Today, good government advocates did their best to call Moore and Berger out on their hypocrisy. Staff members and volunteers from Common Cause NC held a brief public event outside the Legislative Building and then delivered boxes containing petitions with thousands of signatures to Moore’s office. Like the idea of nonpartisan redistricting itself, the petition text was simple and straightforward:

I, ________________, am a resident of North Carolina and a citizen concerned about the negative effect of partisan gerrymandering on our state. Gerrymandering robs too many North Carolinians of their vote on Election Day and I encourage the North Carolina General Assembly to enact a nonpartisan redistricting process, such as House Bill 200, for the state and end gerrymandering now.

Not surprisingly, Moore’s assistant informed the Common Cause folks that, due to this week’s “crossover” deadline, the Speaker would be too busy to meet with them today. Of course, the bitter irony there is that the same crossover deadline will soon sound the death knell for redistricting reform legislation for another year. In other words, Moore is too busy killing a proposal that he once championed to even meet with his former allies on the issue.

To their great credit, the Common Cause advocates stand ready to forgive and forget the treachery. Indeed, Common Cause executive director Bob Phillips wrapped up his remarks today with a plea to both men to “come back home to the cause of redistricting reform.” If only Berger and Moore had half the grace and class evident in that statement, our state would be in a hell of a lot better place.

News

Constitutional Convention resolution, wave of election bills passes late night Senate committee

The Senate Select Committee on Elections passed a wave of bills Tuesday night that would change numerous election processes in the state. They also passed a resolution calling for a Constitutional Convention to make changes to the U.S. Constitution.

Sen. Terry Van Duyn

Republicans outnumbered Democrats 6 to 2 at the meeting, and there was little input from the public on the six bills that were passed. Sen. Democratic Leader Dan Blue and Sen. Terry Van Duyn (D-Buncombe) voted against the measures and spoke against a few of them.

The Constitutional Convention resolution was not introduced until minutes before the meeting, but a Senator was able to give two residents a heads up, and they spoke in favor of the measure at the meeting. North Carolinians who may have been against the resolution were not given the same courtesy.

The other bills that were passed included a moratorium on extending voting hours at one precinct during an election, unless all precinct voting hours are extended; making Carteret County Board of Education elections partisan; and changing the primary elections dates in the state.

Sen. Chuck Edwards

The bill that was discussed the longest was Senate Bill 285, which subdivides Asheville into six districts for city council elections. The bill, introduced by Sen. Chuck Edwards (R-Buncombe, Henderson, Transylvania), would require that city council members be elected in the districts and the mayor be elected citywide.

Asheville would be required to draw its own maps by November, and if they failed to do so, the General Assembly would do it for them.

Edwards told the committee that he didn’t want to broach creating districts in Asheville, but that some citizens had approached him and said they felt disenfranchised.

Van Duyn, who represents 85 percent of Asheville residents, said she had never once been approached by anyone asking her to split the city into districts, and that she has received requests not to do so.

She said the city was planning a referendum in November and asked legislators as a professional courtesy to give Asheville residents a chance first to weigh in on the issue before passing such a bill.

“I understand I’m in the minority, but this is my city,” Van Duyn said.

A contract lobbyist for the city also spoke to the legislators and said there would indeed be a referendum in November. He asked that if legislators were going to pass the bill, if they could at least not make it effective until after November.

Edwards said the city has already been given too long to sort out issues it has and create districts, and that the bill would just push them into action. He said it was time for “government to govern.”

In the end, Republicans voted to give the bill a favorable report.