General Assembly reasserts dominance with extra special session

Dec 16, 2016

What a long, strange week it has been. On Tuesday the General Assembly returned for a special session to consider funding for relief efforts associated with Hurricane Matthew. Click here to watch this week's Legislative Update video.

Lawmakers only passed the relief bills in that session, which adjourned Wednesday, but then called an immediate extra special session.  Though Republicans did not take up the hottest topic – packing the Supreme Court with two more positions to wrestle control back from the Democrats – in this session, they nonetheless ruffled lots of feathers with bills to limit the power that incoming Gov. Roy Cooper will enjoy.

The bills scaled back the number of political appointees that Cooper can make. They reformed the elections boards to give Republicans control in even-numbered years. They stripped Cooper of the ability to appoint UNC board members and gave his other educational authority over to the Superintendent of Public Instruction. They required all department head appointments to be confirmed by the Senate.

Democrats fought back, levying claims that the entire session was unconstitutional given the manner in which it was called. Cooper held a press conference and called the session “not only a power grab, but something more ominous,” and threatened to sue. Two former governors, Republican Jim Martin and Democrat Jim Hunt, spoke out against the moves. Protesters were cleared from both chambers on Thursday and 16 arrests were made.

But Republicans were undeterred, and by the end of the day today the bills are expected to be on lame duck Gov. Pat McCrory’s desk for signature. Whether or not he signs them remains to be seen.

SEANC was able to fight off several harmful reforms that would have affected state employees directly, including stopping an attempt to launch a state employee pay plan (that no one has seen) on Dec. 31 rather than on Feb. 1 as originally intended. We also got an ‘on-the-record’ confirmation from Rep. David Lewis (R-Harnett) that the Office of State Human Resources and Office of State Budget and Management directors would continue to be selected by the governor. As SEANC Government Relations Director Ardis Watkins pointed out in public comments to the House Finance Committee, “I think it would be terrible precedent and have disastrous consequences for employees. The employees rely on the governor to appoint (HR leaders). They can hold that governor accountable.”

Since the Republicans clearly stated that any bill filed would receive consideration in the session, SEANC lobbyists worked with Rep. Jonathan Jordan (R-Ashe) and Rep. Gary Pendleton (R-Wake) to bring up issues that are of utmost importance to state employees and retirees, and should be important in the long session – privatization at the Department of Transportation and a $1,000 bonus for state workers. These bills did not move out of committee in the session, but will be brought back up in January. Click here to see Rep. Jordan explain why he felt these issues were important enough to be addressed.