agriculture, Commentary, Environment

Crossover hangover: hog farm lawsuits, privatizing utilities and other environmental misdeeds

It’s a new legislative day. Did the crossover deadline ruin your appetite? (Photo: Creative Commons)

G ood morning. Does your head hurt? Eyes feel like two fists that spent the night punching a wall? A tinge of nausea as the eggs are frying? Yes, me too.

Crossover — when most bills must pass either the House or the Senate to proceed this session — is always a Herculean feat of enduring long stretches of boredom punctuated by moments of outrage, and ultimately, depression at what our lawmakers hath wrought.

Although most bills were considered during yesterday’s marathon, crossover deadline is officially today. Both chambers are tidying up some brief unfinished business this morning. Then the legislative staff will publish a full list of bills that are eligible for further consideration this session. Beware: The contents of the loser bills can be grafted onto the winners. So an idea, bad or good, isn’t dead until the final gavel drops later this summer.

That means the billboard measures, HB 579 and 580, which were withdrawn from yesterday’s House calendar, could still reappear in other forms. At their core, these measures would allow outdoor advertising companies to mow down trees to erect their ginormous billboards. You, the driver, instead of being visually soothed by greenery inhabited by songbirds, could then get an uncluttered look at the dates of the Dixie Gun & Knife show or the auditions for Actors, Models & Talent for Christ.

Two notable bills did pass:

  • In the Senate, the controversial HB 467, which restricts the amount of money people can receive if they sue hog farms in nuisance lawsuits, sailed through along party lines, 30-19. It had previously passed the House 68-47.
  • HB 351, which would essentially encourage cities and towns to sell their water utilities to private companies, passed the House 89-30; 16 Democrats voted yes. (NCPW provided an explainer of the bill yesterday.)
    The consequences of this bill are far-ranging. Those companies — such as Aqua NC — would hike the rates, and if past is prologue, provide low-quality water and poor customer service.

I can see you pushing away your plate of eggs.

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Commentary

Burr must do his patriotic duty in Russia investigation

This morning’s lead editorial in the Charlotte Observer is on the money in pointing out that the nation is depending on North Carolina Senator Richard Burr to step up to the plate and get moving with the investigation in to Russian interference in the U.S. electoral process. Unfortunately, the signs are not encouraging:

“Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina assured the public that the Senate investigation he is charged with leading will be aboveboard. So far, it doesn’t look anything like the balm that could help heal the country’s political wounds. Recent reports from investigative reporters with Yahoo! News, The Daily Beast and CNN suggest the investigation is stalled even as sources claim Russia allegedly tried to infiltrate the Trump campaign through Trump advisers.

Sen. Lindsey Graham said Tuesday he’ll hold a hearing May 8. But the Senate Intelligence Committee hasn’t gathered documents or interviewed key witnesses three months into the probe. Though Democrats have requested evidence such as emails and phone records from the Trump campaign, Burr has yet to sign off on them. And the committee is lightly staffed and doesn’t include those with an intricate knowledge of Russia or have investigative skills….

Intelligence agencies have already determined that a combination of the propagation of Russia-inspired fake news and selectively timed leaks of sensitive emails from Hillary Clinton and other top Democrats through WikiLeaks had an impact on our elections. How to reckon with that reality responsibly to shield ourselves from further incursions is difficult enough. It’s a delicate dance, requiring a firm response without igniting an unnecessary war or hearkening back to the days of the Red Scare.

Without a full, complete nonpartisan investigation, the public will be ill-equipped to assess what policy responses make the most sense, making it that much more difficult to garner widespread support. We get the politics: Burr and his colleagues were sent to Washington to further the agenda of their respective parties. Their supporters expect nothing less.

But there are moments when a political party’s short-term goals must take a backseat to the country’s well-being. This is one of those times. Burr must seize it.”

Clearly, the time for action is now. Burr can show once and for all whether he is a patriotic American or an incompetent political hack in the days to come. Let’s hope for the former.

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.