Just when it seemed the legislature might be around for another week of work followed by a veto override session, now legislators are heading home. The chambers passed the bills on their respective calendar, and legislators only have to wait to find out which, if any, bill will be vetoed. The Governor will receive the remaining bills today, and since the legislature technically remains in session, he’ll have ten days to act on the bills.
Both the Senate and the House passed the elections bill, HB1029 [Bipartisan State Board Changes], with broad bipartisan support. The Senate vote was 34-3, with all but one Democratic senator joining with the majority of Republican senators to pass the bill. In the House, majorities in both parties supported the bill, with the bill passing 81-18.
The bill moved forward quickly because legislative leaders used a transportation bill that was in a conference committee as the “vehicle” for moving the bill. Essentially, the election bill was substituted for the transportation bill, and then came to the floor of both chambers with full debate but no ability to amend the bill.
The bill summary outlines every provision in the bill. However, it is fair to say that the bill “returns the law to the 2016 structure for elections, ethics, and lobbying” with a few modifications. The former State Board of Elections is reestablished, with the Governor having control of those appointments. The former State Ethics Commission is also reestablished with an even split in its members as between the two parties. The Secretary of State again has authority over registrations and reporting by lobbyists and those that hire them.
Of local interest is a modification to the composition of county boards of election to consist of five persons, with four members appointed by the State Board of Elections and one member appointed by the Governor, with the Governor’s appointment serving as chair.
Responding to the apparent voter fraud involving Bladen and Robeson counties which may require a rerun of the election for the Ninth Congressional seat, the bill amends the procedure for voting an absentee ballot in the presence of two persons. It requires the voter to do one of the following: (1) have the application notarized or (2) have the two persons in whose presence the voter marked that voter’s ballot to certify that the voter is the registered voter submitting the marked ballot. The bill also provides that for any new congressional general election ordered, a primary must be conducted for that election. So in the Ninth District, if the State Board of Election orders a new election, the race may not be between the two candidates who ran in November—Mark Harris (R) and Dan McCready (D). The problems that may give rise to a new election may well have occurred in both the primary and the general elections, and the legislature changed current law to have a total re-run of the election—not just the general election.
One concern as we approached the end of the session was that we’d take up SB821 [Sunset Unconstitutional Boards & Commissions], a bill that mirrored a provision in HB1117 [Restructure Election Admin/Ethics/Lobbying/CF] that would have sunsetted a number of boards and commissions that were found to have been unconstitutionally constituted since the Governor did not have the majority of appointments to each board. What became clear was that, even if SB821 passed the House, it didn’t have enough support to withstand a veto. In fact, it appeared the bill would fail in the House. Rather, than waste time on that debate, House leadership—meaning Speaker Moore—pulled the bill.
When we come back next year, I will reintroduce my bill on the same subject, HB1120 [Reconstitute Boards and Commissions], that will would solve the problems with these boards. The Clean Water Management Trust Fund, the Parks & Recreation Trust Fund, the Child Care Board, as well as the other boards and commissions functioned just fine, and there is an easy fix for each of these boards.
My special thanks go to lobbyists for the NC chapters of The Nature Conservancy and the Audubon Society as well as Friends of the State Parks. They helped mobilize opposition to the sunset bill. Child serving organizations also helped, and numerous local government officials spoke to their legislators about why these boards and commissions needed to be reconstituted. It is easy to get jaded about the legislative process, but this is the latest example of people’s opinions affecting the outcome of a legislative debate.
The last matter to be taken up was a technical corrections bill, SB469 [Technical Corrections]. Since this was the last bill to pass, various legislators in both chambers tried to add their favorite provisions to the bill, and it was not clear that any bill would actually move forward. After extensive negotiations, the bill passed 57-35 in the House and 19-8 in the Senate, largely along party lines. My sense was that Democrats didn’t like a municipal charter school technical provision and a stormwater provision. I was not excited about either of these provisions but, having kept some number of provisions out of the bill, felt like I needed to compromise and support the bill.
Ultimately, the bill that was put forward was short on new policy and was mostly real, technical corrections. While I had nothing I was trying to get into the bill, I worked hard to keep some provisions relating to environmental protection and similar matters from being added to the bill. My view is that if we want to change policy then we should do it in the light of day with a review in a committee. Sneaking a provision in a technical corrections bill that is not subject to amendment is not right. As I leave Raleigh, I’m happy that I helped block some policy changes that weren’t fully vetted.
Legislators head home expecting that they will be back for one more day to vote on any vetoes issued by Governor Cooper. The expectation is that he will veto the Voter ID bill, SB824 [Implementation of Voter ID Const. Amendment], but he may allow the elections bill to become law. I understand that the Governor opposes one provision in the technical corrections bill related to municipal charter schools, but I wonder whether he’ll veto that bill because of his objection to one provision. Of course, the bill has changed, and he may have other objections to it. Guess we’ll have to wait and see.