Courts & the Law, News

Judge turned lawmaker Morey proposes gun violence restraining order in NC

Rep. Marcia Morey (D-Durham)

Rep. Marcia Morey (D-Durham) is calling on her colleagues to pass legislation that would remove guns from individuals who are considered a danger to themselves or others.

A Gun Violence Restraining Order (GVRO) is similar to a Domestic Violence Restraining Order in that it would allow a district court judge to order the removal of all firearms from a person who “by clear and convincing evidence has exhibited threatening, erratic or dangerous behavior,” according to a news release from Morey.

It differs from the domestic violence order in that the petitioner would not have to be in an intimate or familial relationship with the person accused of the dangerous behavior.

Morey’s proposal comes days after 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz opened fire with an AR-15 assault-style rifle in a South Florida high school and killed 17 people.

There have since been numerous media reports about Cruz’s telling behavior before the mass shooting.

“This gun restraining order proposal is not a solution to gun violence, but can be a step in the right direction to thwart future tragedies as it provides for people who ‘see something’ have the power not only to ‘say something’ but can ‘do something’ by going to court,” Morey states in her release. “As we now know numerous warnings about Nikolas Cruz were missed in Broward County. The FBI received the exact information that would have allowed a citizen to apply for a GVRO.”

Morey was a judge for 18 years before joining the legislature. She said she has presided over hundreds of defendants in criminal court with charges of murder and gun violence.

“Time and time again, I heard co-workers, neighbors and victims testify, ‘He was a time bomb. I knew this was going to happen,'” she wrote.

Time and time again, I heard co-workers, neighbors and victims testify, 'He was a time bomb. I knew this was going to happen.' Click To Tweet

Her proposal would allow anyone — such as a teacher, co-worker or acquaintance — with first-hand knowledge of another person who is in possession of or has access to a firearm, and is behaving in a threatening manner, to petition a district court judge for a GVRO. If granted, a judge would order law enforcement to immediately (and temporarily) take and secure any and all firearms from that person.

There would then be a hearing scheduled within 10 business days to give all parties an opportunity to testify why or why not the firearms should be taken away. If a judge finds “by clear and convincing evidence” that a gun violence threat exists, that person would be prohibited from possessing a firearm for one year. A violation of the civil restraining order would result in a criminal charge.

“Personally, I want to see federal legislation that would ban all AR-15s, semi-automatic military guns and bumpstocks,” Morey said. “A GVRO is not a panacea for stopping gun violence, but it could be a first step. The time to act with common sense legislation is now.”

There are a handful of states (Connecticut, Indiana, Texas, California, Oregon and Washington) that have some version of a law that allows either law enforcement or individuals with a relationship to a person considered to be dangerous to petition a court to remove their firearms.

A federal GVRO law was proposed by Congress last year and there has been a renewed calling for its passage since the Florida shooting.

There have been four mass shootings since mid-2015 in which federal authorities had a chance to intervene before they occurred — the Charleston church shooting, the Orlando nightclub shooting, the Sutherland Springs church shooting and now the Florida high school shooting.

National Review, a conservative editorial magazine, recently wrote at length about GVRO proposals, noting that advocates “have been mostly clustered on the left, but there is nothing inherently leftist about the concept.”

“After all, the GVRO is consistent with and recognizes both the inherent right of self-defense and the inherent right of due process,” the article states. “It is not collective punishment. It is precisely targeted.”

The National Rifle Association and other groups have opposed such laws as violating gun owners’ due process rights, according to a recent Reuters article.

It’s too early to tell where North Carolina lawmakers will stand on the issue.

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Which judges are double-bunked in the new maps? Here’s a list

Lawmakers have said they won’t be back until May to take up judicial redistricting, but dropped two new maps before adjourning a special session this week.

The maps this time were released with incumbency information, but not without errors. NC Policy Watch analyzed the information (again) and found that there are more judges double-bunked in the new proposals (Options B and C) than in the Option A map that was dropped two weeks prior.

You can read about the analyses here. The list of double-bunked judges in Options B and C in the district court and superior court maps can be found below. You can read all about the Option A maps here.

It should be noted, as before in other stories, “double-bunking” for the purposes of this data means that there are a smaller number of seats in a judicial district than there are current sitting judges. That means incumbent judges in those areas would either be forced to run against another incumbent in an election or face losing their seat if their term expires after the seats are filled.

Editor’s note: The two Superior Court tables have been updated to reflect an additional double-bunking in Forsyth County.

District Court Double Bunkings - Option B - Feb 2018

There are 53 African American judges out of 269 total judges, according to Jan. 25 AOC info. There are 17 African American judges double-bunked in these proposed maps.
This information is based on the North Carolina voter registration database.
DistrictCounty(s)NameRaceGenderPartyTerm Expiration
1Gates, Chowan, Perquimans, Pasquotank, Camden, Currituck, DareMeader HarrisWhiteMaleRepublican2018
1Gates, Chowan, Perquimans, Pasquotank, Camden, Currituck, DareEula Reid African-AmericanFemaleDemocrat2018
1Gates, Chowan, Perquimans, Pasquotank, Camden, Currituck, DareAmber MalarneyWhiteFemaleDemocrat2020
1Gates, Chowan, Perquimans, Pasquotank, Camden, Currituck, DareEdgar BarnesWhite MaleDemocrat2020
1Gates, Chowan, Perquimans, Pasquotank, Camden, Currituck, DareRobert Trivette WhiteMaleDemocrat2018
2Martin, Beaufort, Washington, Tyrrell, HydeDarrell CaytonWhiteMaleUnaffiliated 2018
2Martin, Beaufort, Washington, Tyrrell, HydeMichael PaulWhiteMaleDemocrat2020
2Martin, Beaufort, Washington, Tyrrell, HydeRegina ParkerAfrican-AmericanFemaleDemocrat2018
2Martin, Beaufort, Washington, Tyrrell, HydeChristopher McLendonWhiteMaleDemocrat2020
10DWakeKeith GregoryAfrican-AmericanMaleDemocrat2018
10DWakeNed MangumWhiteMaleRepublican2018
10DWakeJefferson Glenn GriffinWhiteMaleRepublican2020
10DWakeMargaret EaglesWhiteFemale Democrat2018
10DWakeDebra SasserWhiteFemaleDemocrat2020
10DWakeLori ChristianAfrican-AmericanFemaleDemocrat2020
10DWakeMonica BousmanWhiteFemaleDemocrat 2020
12CNew HanoverRobin Wicks RobinsonWhiteFemaleDemocrat2020
12CNew HanoverJ. H. Corpening IIWhiteMaleDemocrat2020
12CNew HanoverMelinda Haynie CrouchWhiteFemaleDemocrat2018
12CNew HanoverJeffery Evan NoeckerWhiteMaleDemocrat2020
12CNew HanoverRichard Russel DavisWhiteMaleDemocrat2020
15BCumberlandEdward PoneAfrican-AmericanMaleDemocrat2020
15BCumberlandCheri Siler-MackAfrican-AmericanFemaleDemocrat2018
15BCumberlandTalmage BaggettWhiteMaleDemocrat2018
15BCumberlandLuis OliveraHispanicMaleRepublican2020
15DCumberlandApril M. SmithAfrican-AmericanFemaleDemocrat2018
15DCumberlandStephen StokesAfrican-AmericanMaleDemocrat2018
15DCumberlandRobert Steihl IIIWhiteMaleDemocrat2018
16 Hoke, MooreJayrene R. ManessWhiteFemaleRepublican 2018
15DCumberlandDavid HastyWhiteMaleDemocrat2018
16 Hoke, MooreDon W. Creed Jr.WhiteMaleRepublican 2020
16 Hoke, MooreStephen Anthony BibeyWhiteMaleRepublican2018
16Hoke, MooreMichael A. StoneWhiteMaleRepublican2020
16 Hoke, MooreRegina M. JoeBlackFemaleDemocrat2018
18ADurhamJames T. HillWhiteMaleRepublican2018
18ADurhamDoretta L. WalkerAfrican-AmericanFemaleDemocrat2018
18ADurhamFrederick S. Battaglia JrWhiteMaleDemocrat2018
18CDurhamPatricia EvansAfrican-AmericanFemaleDemocrat2018
18CDurhamAmanda MarisWhiteFemaleDemocrat2018
18CDurhamShamieka RhinehartAfrican-AmericanFemaleDemocrat2020
22CGuilfordSusan R. BurchWhiteFemaleDemocrat2020
22CGuilfordBetty BrownWhiteFemaleRepublican2020
22CGuilfordAngela Bullard FoxWhiteFemaleDemocrat2020
22CGuilfordTonia CutchinAfrican-AmericanFemaleDemocrat2020
22DGuilfordMark Timothy CummingsAfrican-AmericanMaleDemocrat2020
22DGuilfordAngela Cheryl FosterAfrican-AmericanFemaleDemocrat2020
22DGuilfordLora C. CubbageAfrican-AmericanFemaleDemocrat2020
22DGuilfordJonathan KreiderWhiteMaleRepublican2018
26AMecklenburgRonald L. ChapmanWhiteMaleDemocrat2020
26AMecklenburgRegan Anthony MillerAfrican-AmericanMaleDemocrat2018
26AMecklenburgChristy T. MannWhiteFemaleDemocrat2020
26AMecklenburgPaige B. McTheniaWhiteFemaleDemocrat2018
30AForsythDavid Edward SipprellWhiteMaleRepublican2020
30AForsythLawrence J. FineWhiteMale Democrat2020
30AForsythGeorge A. BedsworthWhiteMaleDemocrat2018
30AForsythTheodoros KazakosWhiteMaleRepublican2018
30AForsythLaurie HutchinsWhiteFemaleRepublican2020
30AForsythCarrie VickeryWhiteFemaleDemocrat2020
30AForsythVictoria RoemerWhiteFemaleRepublican2020

Superior Court Double Bunkings - Option B - Feb 2018

There are 18 African American judges out of 95 total judges, according to Jan. 25 AOC info. There are seven African American judges double-bunked in these proposed maps.
This information is based on the North Carolina voter registration database.
DistrictCounty(s)NameRaceGenderPartyTerm Expiration
12CNew HanoverPhyllis GorhamAfrican-AmericanFemaleDemocrat2024
12CNew HanoverJay HockenburyWhiteMaleRepublican2018
15DCumberlandMary Ann TallyWhiteFemaleDemocrat2018
15DCumberlandClaire HillWhiteFemaleUnaffiliated2018
15DCumberlandJames Ammons Jr.WhiteMaleUnaffiliated2018
18BDurhamElaine O'NealAfrican-AmericanFemaleDemocrat2018
18BDurhamMichael O’FoghludhaWhiteMaleDemocrat2018
19OrangeCarl FoxAfrican-AmericanMaleDemocrat2022
19OrangeR. Allen BaddourWhiteMaleDemocrat2022
21Rockingham, CaswellStanley AllenWhiteMaleDemocrat2022
21Rockingham, CaswellEdwin WilsonWhiteMaleDemocrat2022
21Rockingham, CaswellWilliam O. Smith IIIWhiteMaleDemocrat2018
22CGuilfordLindsay DavisWhiteMaleDemocrat2018
22CGuilfordSusan BrayWhiteFemaleUnaffiliated2020
24Union, Anson, Richmond, ScotlandChristopher BraggWhiteMaleRepublican2018
24Union, Anson, Richmond, ScotlandJeffery CarpenterWhiteMaleRepublican2024
24Union, Anson, Richmond, ScotlandRichard BrownWhiteMaleDemocrat2024
24Union, Anson, Richmond, ScotlandTanya WallaceWhiteFemaleDemocrat2024
26EMecklenburgLisa BellWhiteFemaleRepublican2022
26EMecklenburgDonnie HooverAfrican-AmericanMaleDemocrat2020
26FMecklenburgCarla ArchieAfrican-AmericanFemaleDemocrat2022
26FMecklenburgKaren Eady-WilliamsAfrican-AmericanFemaleDemocrat2020
30BForsythLogan Todd BurkeAfrican-AmericanMaleDemocrat2020
30BForsythDavid HallWhiteMaleRepublican2020

District Court Double Bunkings - Option C - Feb 2018

There are 53 African American judges out of 269 total judges, according to Jan. 25 AOC info. There are 15 African American judges double-bunked in these proposed maps.
This information is based on the North Carolina voter registration database.
DistrictCounty(s)NameRaceGenderPartyTerm Expiration
1Gates, Chowan, Perquimans, Pasquotank, Camden, Currituck, DareMeader HarrisWhiteMaleRepublican2018
1Gates, Chowan, Perquimans, Pasquotank, Camden, Currituck, DareEula Reid African-AmericanFemaleDemocrat2018
1Gates, Chowan, Perquimans, Pasquotank, Camden, Currituck, DareAmber MalarneyWhiteFemaleDemocrat2020
1Gates, Chowan, Perquimans, Pasquotank, Camden, Currituck, DareEdgar BarnesWhite MaleDemocrat2020
1Gates, Chowan, Perquimans, Pasquotank, Camden, Currituck, DareRobert Trivette WhiteMaleDemocrat2018
2Martin, Beaufort, Washington, Tyrrell, HydeDarrell CaytonWhiteMaleUnaffiliated 2018
2Martin, Beaufort, Washington, Tyrrell, HydeMichael PaulWhiteMaleDemocrat2020
2Martin, Beaufort, Washington, Tyrrell, HydeRegina ParkerAfrican-AmericanFemaleDemocrat2018
2Martin, Beaufort, Washington, Tyrrell, HydeChristopher McLendonWhiteMaleDemocrat2020
10DWakeKeith GregoryAfrican-AmericanMaleDemocrat2018
10DWakeNed MangumWhiteMaleRepublican2018
10DWakeJefferson Glenn GriffinWhiteMaleRepublican2020
10DWakeMargaret EaglesWhiteFemale Democrat2018
10DWakeDebra SasserWhiteFemaleDemocrat2020
10DWakeLori ChristianAfrican-AmericanFemaleDemocrat2020
10DWakeMonica BousmanWhiteFemaleDemocrat 2020
12CNew HanoverRobin Wicks RobinsonWhiteFemaleDemocrat2020
12CNew HanoverJ. H. Corpening IIWhiteMaleDemocrat2020
12CNew HanoverMelinda Haynie CrouchWhiteFemaleDemocrat2018
12CNew HanoverJeffery Evan NoeckerWhiteMaleDemocrat2020
12CNew HanoverRichard Russel DavisWhiteMaleDemocrat2020
15BCumberlandEdward PoneAfrican-AmericanMaleDemocrat2020
15BCumberlandCheri Siler-MackAfrican-AmericanFemaleDemocrat2018
15BCumberlandTalmage BaggettWhiteMaleDemocrat2018
15BCumberlandLuis OliveraHispanicMaleRepublican2020
15DCumberlandApril M. SmithAfrican-AmericanFemaleDemocrat2018
15DCumberlandStephen StokesAfrican-AmericanMaleDemocrat2018
15DCumberlandRobert Steihl IIIWhiteMaleDemocrat2018
16 Hoke, MooreJayrene R. ManessWhiteFemaleRepublican 2018
15DCumberlandDavid HastyWhiteMaleDemocrat2018
16 Hoke, MooreDon W. Creed Jr.WhiteMaleRepublican 2020
16 Hoke, MooreStephen Anthony BibeyWhiteMaleRepublican2018
16Hoke, MooreMichael A. StoneWhiteMaleRepublican2020
16 Hoke, MooreRegina M. JoeBlackFemaleDemocrat2018
18ADurhamJames T. HillWhiteMaleRepublican2018
18ADurhamDoretta L. WalkerAfrican-AmericanFemaleDemocrat2018
18ADurhamFrederick S. Battaglia JrWhiteMaleDemocrat2018
22CGuilfordSusan R. BurchWhiteFemaleDemocrat2020
22CGuilfordBetty BrownWhiteFemaleRepublican2020
22CGuilfordAngela Bullard FoxWhiteFemaleDemocrat2020
22CGuilfordTonia CutchinAfrican-AmericanFemaleDemocrat2020
22DGuilfordMark Timothy CummingsAfrican-AmericanMaleDemocrat2020
22DGuilfordAngela Cheryl FosterAfrican-AmericanFemaleDemocrat2020
22DGuilfordLora C. CubbageAfrican-AmericanFemaleDemocrat2020
22DGuilfordJonathan KreiderWhiteMaleRepublican2018
26AMecklenburgRonald L. ChapmanWhiteMaleDemocrat2020
26AMecklenburgRegan Anthony MillerAfrican-AmericanMaleDemocrat2018
26AMecklenburgChristy T. MannWhiteFemaleDemocrat2020
26AMecklenburgPaige B. McTheniaWhiteFemaleDemocrat2018
30AForsythDavid Edward SipprellWhiteMaleRepublican2020
30AForsythLawrence J. FineWhiteMale Democrat2020
30AForsythGeorge A. BedsworthWhiteMaleDemocrat2018
30AForsythTheodoros KazakosWhiteMaleRepublican2018
30AForsythLaurie HutchinsWhiteFemaleRepublican2020
30AForsythCarrie VickeryWhiteFemaleDemocrat2020
30AForsythVictoria RoemerWhiteFemaleRepublican2020

Superior Court Double Bunkings - Option C - Feb 2018

There are 18 African American judges out of 95 total judges, according to Jan. 25 AOC info. There are seven African American judges double-bunked in these proposed maps.
This information is based on the North Carolina voter registration database.
DistrictCounty(s)NameRaceGenderPartyTerm Expiration
12CNew HanoverPhyllis GorhamAfrican-AmericanFemaleDemocrat2024
12CNew HanoverJay HockenburyWhiteMaleRepublican2018
15DCumberlandMary Ann TallyWhiteFemaleDemocrat2018
15DCumberlandClaire HillWhiteFemaleUnaffiliated2018
15DCumberlandJames Ammons Jr.WhiteMaleUnaffiliated2018
18CDurhamOrlando HudsonAfrican-AmericanMaleDemocrat2020
18CDurhamMichael O’FoghludhaWhiteMaleDemocrat2018
19OrangeCarl FoxAfrican-AmericanMaleDemocrat2022
19OrangeR. Allen BaddourWhiteMaleDemocrat2022
21Rockingham, CaswellStanley AllenWhiteMaleDemocrat2022
21Rockingham, CaswellEdwin WilsonWhiteMaleDemocrat2022
21Rockingham, CaswellWilliam O. Smith IIIWhiteMaleDemocrat2018
22CGuilfordLindsay DavisWhiteMaleDemocrat2018
22CGuilfordSusan BrayWhiteFemaleUnaffiliated2020
24Union, Anson, Richmond, ScotlandChristopher BraggWhiteMaleRepublican2018
24Union, Anson, Richmond, ScotlandJeffery CarpenterWhiteMaleRepublican2024
24Union, Anson, Richmond, ScotlandRichard BrownWhiteMaleDemocrat2024
24Union, Anson, Richmond, ScotlandTanya WallaceWhiteFemaleDemocrat2024
26EMecklenburgLisa BellWhiteFemaleRepublican2022
26EMecklenburgDonnie HooverAfrican-AmericanMaleDemocrat2020
26FMecklenburgCarla ArchieAfrican-AmericanFemaleDemocrat2022
26FMecklenburgKaren Eady-WilliamsAfrican-AmericanFemaleDemocrat2020
30BForsythLogan Todd BurkeAfrican-AmericanMaleDemocrat2020
30BForsythDavid HallWhite MaleRepublican2020
Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Republicans denounce partisan judicial elections in merit selection discussion

Buddy Wester

The Federalist Society’s Triangle Lawyers Chapter hosted a discussion Thursday on merit selection, but panelists instead focused on the pros and cons of partisan judicial elections.

Buddy Wester, a business attorney from Charlotte, and Bob Orr, a former state Supreme Court justice — both of whom are registered Republicans — denounced partisan labels for judges, which were recently reinstated by GOP lawmakers.

“Of the vast majority of the voters considering judicial candidates, affiliation is the only sure thing the voter can know on that candidate and expresses, indeed, it assures, this unequivocal: this candidate will be allegiant to the platform and ideology of his or her party when he or she hears evidence and makes rulings in cases,” Wester said. “Never mind what the cases concern and that 90 percent plus of them have no political cast whatsoever to them.”

He added that the purpose of partisan labels is to lock all the judicial candidates “arm-in-arm” with candidates for other offices.

Orr said he considered himself an expert in statewide partisan judicial elections after running in five of them.

“In reality, in a state that now has 10 million residents with, I think, around 5.5 million registered voters, a partisan judicial race is a $1,400 lottery ticket for an eight-year term on one of our state’s two highest courts,” he said. “As you know, all you need is a law license and the filing fee and you can run for judicial office for the Court of Appeals or the state Supreme Court.”

He described challenges, including the tension partisan races creates within a court when colleagues of the opposite parties are running for office and ask each other for support.

Voters, he said, and often many lawyers, are clueless or poorly informed about how good a job any particular justice or judge is doing anyone running against them in a race.

“I don’t think partisan elections are any more transparent, and in some respects, work against it than reform systems,” he said.

The third panelist, Chris Bonneau, Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Pittsburgh, tried to make a case for partisan elections, noting they weren’t “as bad as people say.”

“There’s no perfect way to select judges,” he said.

He said that partisan labels give voters more information about the candidates they vote for and increases transparency.

He added that North Carolina’s reputation for passing bills regarding judicial selection may be harming the public perception of the courts.

“Every year in states across the country, bills are introduced to change how judges are selected,” Bonneau said. “North Carolina is unique in that you guys actually pass them, and you pass them all the time. … If you’re concerned about the legitimacy of the courts, pick something and stick to it for awhile, and don’t keep changing it every time there’s a new political party in power, because that will do more to revoke the legitimacy of the courts than anything else you do.”

State Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Martin moderated the panel discussion. He endorsed merit selection last year before it was made known lawmakers were considering such a plan.

“My hope, as a part of this discussion today, is to help increase public interest in and understanding of the different methods of judicial selection,” he said. “I have personally been appointed to judicial office twice and I have run for judicial office four times — two partisan races and two non partisan races.”

Wester said toward the end of the meeting that he believed North Carolina could become the beacon for the best judicial selection model in the country if done right.

Courts & the Law, Education, Environment, News

Gov. Roy Cooper won’t veto class size, Board of Elections, pipeline omnibus

Gov. Roy Cooper addressed the class size bill Wednesday
at the Executive Mansion (Photo taken by Billy Ball).

Gov. Roy Cooper says he won’t veto an omnibus bill that eases North Carolina’s class size crisis, despite several parts of the bill that he calls “political attacks and power grabs.”

“Our kids in schools are too important,” said Cooper. “But we do need to talk about the bad parts of the bill.”

The legislation, which he characterized as “a sigh of relief that came too late,” phases in class size caps for grades K-3 over the next four years and offers recurring funding for arts, music and physical education teachers that might have been crowded out by districts’ search for cash to fund new classroom educators.

“The class size chaos that this legislature started caused agony and anger and angst across this state for no reason,” said Cooper.

Meanwhile, Cooper said the deal only “partly” resolves the state’s class size headache, pointing out that—as Policy Watch reported today—the accord comes with no funds for school districts’ construction needs arising from the state mandate.

Cooper said school superintendents were “wringing their hands not knowing what to do” over the infrastructure issues. Many districts will have to spend millions to find new classroom space.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen school superintendents that desperate,”said Cooper. “And these legislators let that problem fester for two years.”

Additionally, the state continues to grapple with a teacher shortage that may vex local school leaders’ efforts to fill more classrooms, a point brought up by the governor Wednesday.

“A smaller class size doesn’t do much good with no teacher in it,” Cooper said.

Cooper’s decision likely has little impact on the bill’s fate, considering the GOP-dominated General Assembly has a veto-proof voting majority on the legislation.

Republicans described the package bill, delivered as a conference report on House Bill 90 last week, as pulling together multiple, urgent issues, including a still-brewing court battle over an elections and ethics board merger, as well as a $58 million environmental mitigation fund that Cooper announced shortly after the pipeline received its permits.

GOP lawmakers say Cooper doesn’t have the authority to oversee that fund. They also suggested the Democratic governor negotiated a “quid pro quo” arrangement to secure the pipeline, which Republican legislators also support.

Cooper said Republicans’ actions “imperiled” that mitigation fund, arguing that he wasn’t sure what would become of the funding now. Legislators say they want to spend the cash on school districts along the pipeline’s route.

The governor also chided GOP legislators for another attempt to merge state elections and ethics boards, a move seen as curbing Cooper’s appointment powers. The state Supreme Court ruled in Cooper’s favor in an ongoing lawsuit over the boards, and a lower court is expected to decide soon how to proceed.

Cooper said this component of the bill is an “unconstitutional scheme.”

 

Courts & the Law, Education, Environment, News

Class size omnibus passes easily, despite stiff opposition to Board of Elections, Atlantic Coast Pipeline provisions

Senate leader Phil Berger and Speaker of the House Tim Moore

An omnibus bill alleviating some of the headaches associated with North Carolina’s class size crisis easily passed the state House by a 104-12 margin Tuesday, despite continuing opposition from top Democrats on its controversial Atlantic Coast Pipeline and Board of Elections provisions.

Rep. Craig Horn, a Union County Republican who helped to assemble last week’s compromise conference report on House Bill 90, said the bill gives districts “much requested” time to prepare for the state’s new K-3 class sizes by phasing in its caps on average and maximum class size over the next four years.

The legislation, which also creates a $61 million recurring funding allocation for arts, music and physical education teachers, comes after years of mounting pressure on the Republican-dominated General Assembly to either ease their 2016 class size mandate or provide additional funding to save those so-called “enhancement” teaching positions.

As Policy Watch has detailed, local school districts would need to cough up millions or lay off scores of enhancement teachers to find space for the necessary new K-3 classroom teachers.

The legislation also modifies eligibility requirements for the GOP-backed, controversial Personal Education Savings Accounts and purports to provide sufficient funding to clear the waiting list for the state’s widely-backed, Pre-K program.

Multiple Republicans insisted this week and last that the revised House Bill 90, which was crafted behind closed doors, was a “bipartisan” measure.

“We do not have to be separated on this,” said Rep. Linda Johnson, the Cabarrus County Republican who co-chairs the chamber’s education and budget committees.

Yet, while many Democrats ultimately voted for the conference report because of its class size fix, some components of the omnibus bill clearly rankled minority party members in the House and Senate.

One section seeks to control spending from a $58 million environmental mitigation fund for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a fund that Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s office seeks to administer (Note: See the report today from Policy Watch’s Lisa Sorg on the ACP).

Also, a separate portion seeks to merge state elections and ethics panels while curtailing Democrats’ majority on the appointed elections board. The N.C. Supreme Court struck down Republicans’ merger of the panels last month, and GOP lawmakers are seeking to author their own fix before it’s taken up by a lower court.

“This is a difficult vote to take, and it’s difficult because we’re voting on three separate matters,” said Rep. Deb Butler, a Wilmington Democrat who dubbed the package a “kitchen sink bill.”

Democrats also chafed over a lack of school construction funding in the measure.

“This bill does not address the needs in education that we know, Republicans and Democrats both know, are so necessary right now,” said Rep. Susan Fisher, an Asheville Democrat.

Legislative Republicans countered that K-12 infrastructure is historically a local government funding matter in North Carolina. However, state House members have widely supported a statewide $2 billion school construction bond referendum, which would address a portion of the state’s estimated $8 billion in K-12 capital needs, but Senate lawmakers have not taken up the matter.

“Like in all bills, there’s always more work to be done,” said Horn. “I’m looking forward to your support on that more work.”

Gov. Roy Cooper

The bill will now proceed to Cooper’s office. Cooper seems likely to veto the bill due to its pipeline and elections portions, although the legislature has the votes to override the Democrat’s veto.

Some Democrats suggested Tuesday that, with state courts still deciding the fate of the legislature’s election board tinkering, the class size fix could be “held hostage” by the legal wrangling.

Rep. Darren Jackson, the House Democratic Leader, said the lack of a severability clause may nix the entire bill if courts find one portion unconstitutional, although a longtime General Assembly attorney cast doubt on that claim this week.


Read more