Courts & the Law, News, Voting

Republican senator to critic of GOP’s controversial voting reforms: “Stop bothering people at such an hour.”

Sen. Rick Horner, R-Johnson, Nash, Wilson

“Stop bothering people at such an hour.”

A Republican North Carolina senator had this to say in an email late Thursday to one woman’s criticism of surprise, GOP-led voting reforms unveiled at the legislature this week.

On Friday, Policy Watch obtained a copy of the terse email exchange, in which Sen. Rick Horner, a one-term Republican who represents Johnston, Nash and Wilson counties, took a Raleigh woman to task.

Horner was firing back at Joanne Rohde of Raleigh, who blasted GOP legislators for their efforts to overhaul early voting and voter ID laws late in the short session.

Rohde is not one of Horner’s constituents, but her email—which was timestamped at 10:59 p.m. Thursday—was directed to all of the state’s Senators. Horner’s reply was sent at 11:06 p.m. Thursday.

From Rohde’s email:

Our State Legislature is the poster child of hollowing out Democracy from within.  Shame on those of you promoting legislation that thwarts the intent of the Supreme Court ruling.  Shame on those of you limiting our basic right to vote.  Shame for sneaking around in the middle of the night changing laws without public discourse.

You think no one is watching, or no one cares; or maybe you just think [you’re] untouchable.  But you’re wrong.  Not only will I cast my vote against those working against our democratic principles, but I will spend my weekends knocking on doors and making calls to make sure that as many citizens as possible know what you’re doing.  And I assure you, I’m not alone.

It appears the lawmaker copied all of his Senate colleagues, both Democrats and Republicans, on the response. It’s unclear whether that was intentional or unintentional.

Horner couldn’t be immediately reached for an interview Friday afternoon.

Voting rights advocates are fired up over new Republican proposals to nix a major early voting day and revive voter ID requirements.

House Speaker Tim Moore announced the voter ID bill Monday, which would put it to voters to decide whether the state requires mandatory photo IDs at the polls, an idea that’s been widely denounced for its potential impact on minority voters.

Two years ago, a federal court shot down the GOP’s 2013 voter ID law, writing that it targeted African-American voters with “almost surgical precision.”

The new legislation is awaiting review in a House elections committee.

Meanwhile, GOP legislators in the House gutted a 2017 tax cut bill from the Senate this week, reintroducing the measure as “The Uniform & Expanded Early Voting Act.”

The bill’s sparked fierce criticism because it would do away with early voting on the Saturday before Election Day, a particularly popular day.

The legislation swept through the state House Thursday and Friday amid often bitter debate. After its approval Friday morning, state Senate lawmakers placed it on their calendar for a possible vote Friday.

[Update: The Senate approved the House-amended bill Friday afternoon. Horner voted to approve the proposal. It’s now bound for Gov. Roy Cooper.]

Commentary, Environment

Bill to limit hog nuisance suits passes; coalition of nonprofits urges gubernatorial veto

The controversial North Carolina Farm Act was sent to Gov. Cooper today after the state Senate concurred with the House amendments. The bill has attracted intense opposition from a variety of parties, including environmental advocates, rural advocacy groups. trial lawyers and even some Republicans.

Last night, veteran GOP lawmaker John Blust of Guilford County delivered a stem-winder of a speech decrying the bill, in which, among other things, he blasted his fellow Republicans for rushing the bill through. Click here to see the speech.

This afternoon, a coalition of nonprofits that includes the North Carolina Justice Center (parent organization of NC Policy Watch) delivered a letter to Gov. Cooper calling on him to veto the bill. Here is an excerpt:

S711 deserves your veto for multiple reasons:

  • S711 eliminates property rights that pre-date North Carolina statehood and strips neighbors and communities of access to the courts in an effort to protect a single industry from liability. The bill constrains nuisance challenges so tightly that the only example of a viable claim the bill sponsor could imagine is a lawsuit following the complete abandonment of a farm by its owners.
  • The communities surrounding intensive hog farms in North Carolina are already disproportionately burdened based on their race or ethnicity. In January 2017, the US EPA expressed its concern that the impacts of animal agriculture, coupled with inadequate state remedies, violate Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. Your Administration has shown leadership on this issue and recently settled negotiations resulting from that EPA letter. S711, section 10 would entrench the same unequal protection that concerned the federal agency, and is inconsistent with the values and direction of your Administration.
  • Even viewed from the perspective of H467’s supporters, S711 is unnecessary. There have been no nuisance suits filed against any agricultural operations in North Carolina other than the suits against Smithfield in a number of years. Furthermore, it is our understanding that no lawsuits filed after the effective date of H467 have reached a judgment against Smithfield or any other farm or integrator, and the ongoing lawsuits are not subject to either H467 or S711. Thus, even if one believed it was important to limit nuisance claims against the corporation, there is no evidence that S711 is needed to reach that goal.
  • Because the bill precludes lawsuits that have not been filed as of the date of the bill’s enactment, it effectively ‘takes’ the accrued but as yet unfiled claims of an unknown number of neighbors. Under Rhyne v. K-Mart Corp, 258 N.C. 160, 594 S.E. 2nd 1 (2004), S711 may leave the State responsible for compensating each of these residents for their lost claims, imposing an unknowable financial liability on state government.

Cooper has 10 days to act on the bill, which means a veto would have to happen by Monday, June 25.

Commentary, News

The Week’s Top Stories on NC Policy Watch

1. Conservative leaders go with corporate power over human wellbeing (and even property rights)

It usually happens a few times every legislative session: at some point during their annual stay in the state capital, North Carolina lawmakers come to a bellwether moment or two at which they provide a full expression of who they are and what they stand for. Sometimes, these moments are about race; sometimes they are about human rights or civil liberties; sometimes they are about basic questions of environmental sustainability; and sometimes they are about the clash of human beings and corporations.

Recently, we arrived at one such moment that arguably relates to all four categories. It happened when lobbyists for one of the state’s most powerful and frequently destructive industries prevailed upon conservative leaders in the state Senate to insert some significant new law changes into a previously innocuous bill. The changes would alter the relationship between industrial hog factories (“farms” seems much too genteel of a term to describe these massive and grim operations) and the mostly powerless people of limited means (many of them people of color) who tend to live nearby.

As Policy Watch environmental reporter Lisa Sorg has reported here, here and here, legislators are seeking to make it much more difficult for individuals and families injured by the overpowering and life-degrading output of these massive, corporate-controlled operations – the stench, the airborne fecal matter, the insect swarms, the buzzards, the truckloads of hog carcasses – to bring common law nuisance suits against the multinational corporations that control them. The action is in direct response to a series of lawsuits brought against the pork giant, Murphy-Brown, a subsidiary of the Chinese corporate behemoth known as the WH Group. [Read more…]

***Bonus:  WATCH: Republican legislator chide colleagues on rushed process, legislation to protect “one giant corporation” (video)

2. Early voting bill stirs controversy among watchdogs, Board of Elections

3. GOP leaders seek to poison school safety bill with partisan attack on the Affordable Care Act

4. Allegations of sexism, partisanship follow local election board’s disqualification of Berger challenger

5. Landowners along potential MVP Southgate path fighting unwanted land agents still waiting for attorney general to intervene

6. PW exclusive: Previously undisclosed fiscal note says victims’ rights constitutional amendment could cost state millions

7. N.C. State’s hyped voucher study tells us nothing about N.C.’s voucher program

News

Early voting bill approved by House, despite fierce debate

Friday morning’s House debate on a controverisal early voting bill led to arguments about previous voting-related lawsuits, long-standing political grudges and more than a century of partisan back-and-forth on race, voting and good governance.

While the House ultimately approved the bill 61-40, the debate will be taken up in the Senate and – should it become law over an assumed veto by Gov. Roy Cooper — will likely carry on in the courts.

At issue: Senate Bill 325, a measure introduced when a completely unrelated bill was gutted near midnight on Wednesday and replaced with serious changes to early voting, over which Democrats and Republicans have been fighting in and out of the courts for several years. Among the changes the bill would make:

  • Early voting would begin on Wednesday, Oct. 17 and end Friday, Nov. 2. That would eliminate the final Saturday of early voting — the most popular early voting day, especially among Black voters in North Carolina. In 2014, 103,513 voters voted on that day and in 2016 it was 193,138. Unlike Election Day, early voting is a “one stop” period in which people can register to vote on the same day.
  • All early voting sites would have to have uniform hours — 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. — during weekday early voting. While weekend voting could differ from those hours, all sites would still have to have uniform hours. Right now county election boards have the flexibility to determine early voting hours based on past experience and expected traffic.

“What we set out to do was make it more reliable and dependable,” said Rep.David Lewis (R-Harnett), the bill’s sponsor. “The voters in a county would know that their early voting site was open from a certain time to a certain time for 17 days.”

But by mandating the hours of all early voting sites, Democratic lawmakers countered, the legislature will force counties to find more volunteers willing to work longer hours and the funding to run all of their early voting sites for twelve hour shifts every day. Those that cannot will likely have to scale back early voting sites, as several county board of election are already indicating they will have to do to comply with the bill.

“This bill does not expand early voting,” said Rep. Darren Jackson (D-Wake), the minority leader. “It gives counties the ability to do so at a much higher cost than they current incur. In that way it’s a huge unfunded mandate.”

“To my knowledge not one single board of elections asked for this bill,”  Jackson said. “Not one board of elections was asked to weigh in on this bill.”

Indeed, on Thursday the Bipartisan State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement sent a letter to Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) and House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) asking that lawmakers give them at least 24 hours’ notice before introducing legislation that will impact the elections they have to run.

Lewis dismissed the board’s letter Friday, saying he didn’t believe board Chairman Andy Penry, an attorney, has any elections expertise.

Rep. Henry Michaux (D-Durham) argued mandating hours of operation takes flexibility away from local boards who know best when their voting sites are busy, when they are not and how many their county needs.

“Don’t you think the people in their own communities know…waht the standards in those particular communities are?” Michaeux said. “Don’t you think they know what is best for the rules and operations for those communities?”

Several Democratic lawmakers alluded to the way in which the bill would impact Black voters, who disproportionately vote on the Saturday before an election – when, they said, the campaign is the hottest. Having been dealt defeats in federal court in which their voting laws were found to target Black voters, House Democrats argued, does the General Assembly really want to wade back into that fight?

Lewis and other Republicans rejected this criticism, saying they found a 2016 federal federal court ruling that they had “”target African Americans with almost surgical precision,” to be inflammatory and not the final word on the case, which the Supreme Court declined to take up in May.

Lewis blamed Gov. Roy Cooper and Attorney General Josh Stein, both Democrats, for asking to withdraw the appeal to the Supreme Court after unseating their Republican predecessors last year.

The early voting bill, passed on Thursday, will now move to the Senate, where lawmakers are already gearing up for a similar debate.

 

agriculture, Environment

WATCH: Republican legislator chide colleagues on rushed process, legislation to protect “one giant corporation” (video)

If you missed it with this week’s marathon sessions at the General Assembly, be sure to take 14 minutes this weekend to listen to Rep. John Blust repeatedly challenge his colleagues on the House floor for their efforts to rush through the controversial Farm Act.

(As Policy Watch’s Lisa Sorg has reported SB 711 would all but erase the rights of neighbors of industrialized hog farms to sue for nuisance. The bill follows a $50 million dollar verdict in April in which Smithfield Foods lost a high profile nuisance suit to several Bladen County families.)

Rep. Blust, a Guilford County Republican, blasted legislative leaders for fast tracking the bill in response to an April court ruling, and then refusing to allow any amendments to be considered.

“We’re the people’s house and the people’s legislature, and we ought to do business in a deliberative fashion that befits the trust that’s been bestowed on us by the people.”

And for those who opted not to speak up, Blust offered this blunt assessment:

“What we do here is not a small matter. And people who really don’t want to look at these bills and have the debates, there’s still time till August to go ahead and take your name off the ballot and your party can  replace you. This is our duty.”

Click below to watch Rep. Blust’s full 14 minute speech:

In the end, the Republican-controlled House voted 65-42 to approve the farm Act, sending the measure to Governor Roy Cooper’s desk.