Cooper expands challenge to new state laws

Posted January 10

Gov. Roy Cooper

— Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper on Tuesday challenged more provisions of state laws passed last month by the Republican-controlled legislature.

Cooper amended a lawsuit he filed in the waning days of 2016 that alleged lawmakers overstepped their authority in overhauling the structure of North Carolina's state and county elections boards. A three-judge panel has put that law on hold until state courts can determine whether it's constitutional.

In the amended lawsuit, the governor is likewise challenging the legality of laws that require Senate confirmation of his cabinet secretaries, slashes the number of state positions to which he can appoint supporters and allowed former Gov. Pat McCrory to appoint the wife of his chief of staff to an eight-year term on the North Carolina Industrial Commission.

The Senate confirmation provision "is an unprecedented attempt by the General Assembly to limit the Governor's authority to appoint the people he selects who share his 'views and priorities' and who will faithfully execute the laws," according to the lawsuit.

The state constitution does allow for such confirmations, but the Senate has rarely exercised the power. Cooper's attorneys argue in the lawsuit that the confirmations were never meant for the heads of state agencies, only for constitutional officers.

Lawmakers granted McCrory up to 1,500 managerial and policy-making positions in state government exempt from civil service laws for his political appointments, but they cut that to 425 before Cooper took office. People in those other positions would become career government employees under the law and couldn't be removed by the Cooper administration without cause.

"By attempting to accord career status to state employees who were previously designated as key policymakers and key managers in the prior administration, the General Assembly has, in effect, substituted its judgment for the Governor's in terms of who should make and execute the policy of the executive branch of state government," the lawsuit states. "That leaves the Governor with little control over the views and priorities of the key employees within the executive branch and allows the General Assembly to exert too much control over the determination and implementation of executive policy. That violates the separation of powers."

Before they adjourned their special legislative session on Dec. 16, lawmakers approved McCrory's appointment of Yolanda Stith, the wife of McCrory chief of staff Thomas Stith, to a lengthy term on the Industrial Commission, which handles workers compensation cases and tort claims against the state. Normally, the appointment would have been until 2019, when the term of the seat, which had been vacant, expires. But lawmakers added another six years to the term.

"There is no explanation or indication in the language of Senate Bill 4 why the General Assembly believed the appointee was entitled to a unique nine-year term on the Industrial Commission or how doing so would advance our State's general welfare," the lawsuit argues.


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