The best editorial of the weekend: General Assembly leaders need to end this deceptive practice

Senate leader Phil Berger has made “gut and replace” one of his favorite legislative tactics.

In case you missed it over the weekend, be sure to check out the fine Capitol Broadcasting Company editorial on WRAL.com entitled “‘Gut & Replace’ tactic hides legislators’ accountability to voters.”

At issue in the essay is the longstanding practice whereby state legislators evade their own rules (and public scrutiny) by bringing up and passing entirely new pieces of legislation out of nowhere late in a legislative session and well after the annual “crossover deadline” that’s designed to prevent such a possibility.

As the editorial explains, a bill is approved by one house and sent to the other to address a particular subject. Months later, the second house that received the bill, “guts” the measure and rewrites it to deal with an entirely different subject. Then the new bill is sent back to the house in which it started, where it can be approved in a single “concurrence” vote. Often the entirely new measure is not even reviewed by a committee when it returns to its original house, despite being in completely different form.

This is from the editorial:

“Gut & Replace.” It is a favorite strong-arm tactic of Senate Leader Phil Berger. There’s nothing new about this legislative version of “bait & switch.” It’s been used by Democrats as well as Republicans.

It is a troubling practice that destroys a basic pillar of representative government — the ability of voters to hold their elected representative accountable for their actions.

Berger has transformed “Gut & Replace” from a rarely used scheme into a routine way of doing the public’s business. The tactic takes a bill that has already been passed, deletes the content of that legislation and replaces it with whatever Berger wants. It transforms, not merely amends.

The editorial lists several recent bills in which this sketchy practice has been employed, including notably, a recent controversial bill to overhaul interscholastic athletics in the state that, as it was originally passed by the House unanimously, dealt with helping families dealing with autism.

As the editorial rightfully notes in conclusion:

This tactic makes things — the good or bad of the legislation; what needs it meets or misses; who it benefits or hurts – irrelevant. It renders critical votes moving it along in the legislative process meaningless.

“This is not a good way to do the peoples’ business,” said Rep. Pricey Harrison, a Guilford County Democrat who’s served in the House for nine terms. She knows from where she talks. In 2010, after the Deep Water Horizon oil spill disaster, she worked with others to take a Senate-passed environmental bill and transform it into the Oil Spill Liability, Response and Preparedness Act. “It was an emergency situation.”

There is no emergency concerning high school athletics, or the other issues now being rushed through via “Gut & Replace.”

Click here to read the entire editorial.

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