Legislature, Special Session

House Democrats protest special session, “legislating in the dark”

Photo of Rep. Darren Jackson of Wake County

Rep. Darren Jackson, a Wake County Democrat, filed an official protest against today’s special session based on the constitutional grounds that it is “injurious to the people” (Photo: NC General Assembly)

The scene on the House floor today was an exercise in civil disobedience. Democrats, one by one, stood and officially defied the Republicans’ vote to hold an extra special session — a session whose agenda is known only to those holding the majority of political power.

“I’m formally joining the protest,” each lawmaker announced, following the lead of Rep. Darren Jackson of Wake County, who filed the protest.

Republicans didn’t notify their fellow Democratic lawmakers of the extra special session; nor were Democrats among the required three-fifths of the House and the Senate members who agreed to call it.

“Legislating in the dark — it doesn’t seem to matter, said House Minority Leader Larry Hall, a Durham Democrat, who called a press conference after the House recessed. “There’s no question most of the action we’re going to see will be heard in the courts.”

Hall compared today’s power grab to the Wilmington riots of 1898. That’s when white racist Democrats won an election by stuffing the ballot boxes. Two days afterward, the Wilmington Race Riot broke out, and whites — among them clergymen, lawyers, bankers and merchants — gunned down African-Americans. At least 25 were killed, although unofficial numbers put that figure at more than 100, including bodies that were dumped in the river.

“In 1898, people didn’t like the vote and they decided to terrorize the town,” Hall said. “In those days, people used physical violence. We’re in a new era when the vote is sought to become meaningless through legislative tactics.”

Republican lawmakers are mixing a potpourri of legislation that could be voted on this evening. The legislation is expected to, among other actions, enact regulatory reforms that failed earlier this year. It’s also rumored that there will be a bill to limit the authority of the executive branch — power that was expanded under Gov. Pat McCrory.

“We’re here after a Republican governor lost the election,” said Hall, who filed two bills yesterday, one asking for a nonpartisan redistricting commission, the other for a restoration of early voting. “Now the Republicans seek to nullify the will of the people by stripping away the powers of the governor.”

McCrory had called the first special session to appropriate $200 million in disaster relief for counties devastated by Hurricane Matthew and the western wildfires. “We came down here for a legitimate reason,” Hall said, referring to the Disaster Recovery Act of 2016. The bill passed both chambers. “That business has been dispensed with. We should be going home.”

Instead, Hall said, “we are now here on a purely partisan agenda to nullify the vote of the people. It should be clear what it is. We should not bite our tongues and look the other way.”

The filing deadline for bills in the Senate is 5 p.m.; in the House it’s 7 p.m.


Courts & the Law, Legislature, News

Senator: Court packing on everyone’s mind despite most still being ‘in the dark’ on potential legislation

Sen. Dan Blue at a podium

Democratic leader, Sen. Dan Blue addressed the court packing rumor at a press conference Tuesday before the special session. Photo by Rob Schofield

The special legislative session is well under way, and while there still has been no official word on a GOP scheme to pack the state Supreme Court, it’s very much on people’s minds.

Democratic leader, Sen. Dan Blue, from Wake County, held a press conference before the session started to call attention to the possibility of a Supreme Court expansion, and to condemn any bills that do not solely address disaster relief after Hurricane Matthew and recent wildfires in the west.

“Rumors often run rampant here in Raleigh as most of you know,” he said. “There’s something about rumors though, that if you respond to them definitively one way or another, you can usually put them to rest. And the Republicans have been more than happy to let the rumor mill keep churning, churning and burning.”

He said there hasn’t been productive conversation from Republican leaders, so Democrats are “in the dark like everyone else.”

“I’ve asked and nobody has said they’re going to do it; nobody has said they’re not going to do it; some have said, ‘we’re looking at it,'” Blue said.

He called the idea to expand the court unethical and immoral and said it would use people who need immediate assistance as political pawns. Sen. Ben Clark, D-Cumberland, Hoke, joined Blue at the press conference and spoke about the damage from the hurricane in his district.

“Our district was inundated by the floodwaters ushered in by Hurricane Matthew,” he said. “Let us dedicate the full extent of our focus here during this special session for the recovery of the disasters that have befallen our state and provide our citizens with answers. It’s time for our state to step up to the task.”

Sen. Ben Clark and Sen. Dan Blue stand at a podium

Sen. Ben Clark, D-Cumberland, Hoke, spoke at a press conference Tuesday about Hurricane Matthew damage in his districts. Photo by Rob Schofield

Blue and Clark both said those residents affected by the natural disasters should be the focus of all North Carolinians, but instead everyone in the state was thinking about court packing.

Blue also said there was no workload to justify an expansion of the high court, and that such a move would be done to nullify a branch of government, destroying the idea of three independent branches of government and checks and balances.

There was a second press conference held by progressive advocates who have concerns about ulterior motives during the special session.

Rev. William Barber II, President of the North Carolina NAACP, said there were doubts to believe court packing was just a rumor.

“To engage in manipulation of the courts while people’s lives are still in crises is just wrong,” he added.

House Speaker Tim Moore told reporters at the session that he does not expect a bill to expand the Supreme Court to be introduced.

The only bill that has been filed in the session thus far is the Disaster Recovery Act of 2016 in the House, but there is still time for more filings. The House has until 5 p.m. today to file any new bills, and the Senate has until noon Wednesday.

Legislature, News

McCrory to ask for $200 million in special session for emergency relief

Pat McCrory and the NCGAGov. Pat McCrory will request approximately $200 million in tomorrow’s special legislative session to help affected North Carolinians recover from Hurricane Matthew and wildfires, but it hasn’t been made clear what that figure is based on.

McCrory’s Office did not respond Monday to a request seeking information about which localities have requested emergency funding or which ones had sent the Governor’s Office letters of intent to seek relief.

Julia Jarema, a spokeswoman for North Carolina Emergency Management, said she did not know what localities had asked for money. She also did not follow-up to two requests to get that information, and said she didn’t know which agency would have it.

“I don’t know that there’s any one [specific request], but I know the need is great,” she said Friday.

In the last two months, the governor’s Hurricane Matthew Recovery Committee held five regional meetings throughout the state to hear feedback from those impacted.

McCrory outlined five areas related to recovery that he will request the legislature take up at the special session, and said they came directly from input by impacted communities throughout the state.

Kellie Blue, finance director in Robeson County, which was impacted by Hurricane Matthew, said the County sent a letter of intent to seek relief to the Governor’s Office.

She said the County was still trying to gather data, and that she knew it would need millions but didn’t have an exact number yet. The formal request for relief will be made through FEMA, and then will trickle down to the state, she added.

President Barack Obama signed legislation over the weekend that should provide $300 million in federal funds for the state’s hurricane recovery, according to the Associated Press.

Environment, Legislature

Bad housekeeping at the special session: Regulatory reforms that could ruin your holidays

Portrait of State Representative Chuck McGrady

“We got very close to an agreement on that thing” with the Senate. “I’ve heard discussion that we ought to put together that bill. There’s some housekeeping stuff like that that’s out there.”
— State Rep. Chuck McGrady (R-Hendersonville) on the controversial regulatory reform bill that could be resurrected in the special session. (The News & Observer, Dec. 10, 2016)

To call the Regulatory Reform Bill of 2016 a housekeeping item is like saying the USA Patriot Act merely added an extra stanza to the National Anthem. Although hurricane and wildfire disaster relief is the pretense of this week’s special session, it’s reasonable to expect other less-benevolent “housekeeping” bills are being drafted at this very moment.

Riffing on Rep. McGrady’s tidiness theme, we’ve subverted headlines from Good Housekeeping magazine to explain what provisions were in the original bill that could make a comeback this week.

How to talk to your kids about the special session
Last June, Senate Bill 303, a sweeping anti-regulation bill, was referred to a conference committee, where it died days before the session adjourned. Although the end of the session killed any measures that hadn’t passed both chambers, the regulatory reform bill was cryogenically preserved in lawmakers’ minds. Now it appears to have thawed.

SB 303 contained several provisions that would have thwarted the development of wind farms, weakened renewable energy standards and allowed the dumping of televisions and computers – rife with toxic chemicals such as lead and heavy metals — in landfills. The bill also narrowed the definition of wetlands.

An indigo-colored iMac G3, also known as the Jellybean model from the early 2000s.

A landfill is no place for an iMac G3 (Creative Commons)

Not-so-refreshing ideas for old TVs and computers
What’s in your TV is worse than what’s on it. Currently televisions and computers aren’t allowed in municipal landfills. Instead, they must be recycled, and for good reason. TVs and computers, including the monitors, contain toxics such as lead, cadmium, chromium, mercury and bromide flame-retardants. Today’s landfills are lined, but those liners can fail, allowing these materials to leach into the groundwater. And from the groundwater they can travel into private drinking water wells, lakes, rivers, springs and streams.

Solar panels

There goes the sun: Lawmakers could cap the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (Photo: Creative Commons)



Two easy ways to ruin the state’s burgeoning renewable energy industry
The 2007 Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard can be credited in part for the explosive growth in the state’s solar industry. The REPS requires public electric utilities, municipal suppliers and electric co-ops to generate or purchase a certain percentage of their power from renewables — wind, solar, biomass, water, landfill gas, geothermal – and energy efficiency. The benchmarks are staggered to allow utilities to ramp up, which they’ve accomplished: From 3 percent in 2012, to 6 percent in 2014, to 10 percent next year. By 2020, the requirement is 12.5 percent for public utilities and 10 percent for rural coops and municipal electric suppliers. The regulatory reform bill would have capped the REPS percentage at its current level of 6 percent.

The bill also asked for a joint environmental and military study on wind farms and turbines near Army, Air Force and Marine bases. However, veterans of Jones Street know that a “study” often portends noxious language that will be inserted into legislation, perhaps even in the middle of the night.

A hiatus on solar wasn’t in the original regulatory bill. However the Energy Policy Council and its Clean Energy subcommittee met earlier this month to recommend that the state study – there’s that word again – the effects of solar and the REPS on utilities.

A swampy wetlands with trees in Four Oaks, North Carolina

Looks wet to us: A wetland in Howell Woods, Four Oaks. (Photo via Creative Commons: Bobistraveling)

Simple decorating tricks to get rid of wetlands
An amendment to the Isolated Wetlands Law appeared in an earlier House version of the regulatory bill, not the Senate, but legislators have long memories. The proposal would strip the NC Department of Environmental Quality of its authority to regulate certain wetlands: Man (or woman)-made ponds and wetlands that aren’t subject to the federal Clean Water Act.

Why do we care? Because wetlands are linchpins of a healthy ecosystem, regardless of who built them. Development can threaten these wetlands, which don’t care about semantics. The language also weakens the mitigation requirements – what developers have to do to compensate for encroaching on the wetlands.

15 environmental reports that could go out of style in 2017

We like reports. Yes, they require state employees’ time and cost money, but reports are one way – and under the outgoing administration, has been nearly the only way – to keep track of the government’s activities. Granted, you have to know what to ask for –it’s not like there’s an easily accessible index – but reports are a form of transparency.

In that spirit, lawmakers want to eliminate reports on the mining account, sustainable energy efficient buildings program, vehicle emissions reductions and the biennial state of the environment. Other reports would be published less frequently: the activities of the Environmental Management Commission (its membership is composed of political appointees), the cost and implementation of environmental permitting, waste management and the parks system plan.

Sure, this provision is mostly of interest to policy geeks and watchdogs, but we all have the right to know.