Dems say McCrory staffers tried to shape legislative response on unemployment insurance reform
Posted June 5, 2013
Raleigh, N.C. — Democratic legislative leaders say the McCrory administration inappropriately tried to influence how legislative staff members answered questions about changes to the state's unemployment insurance system earlier this year.
Administration officials say they were merely trying to provide information to offices that would likely be getting a lot of questions about changes to the unemployment system.
Specifically, the Democratic leaders say that aides to Democratic lawmakers should not have been summoned to a meeting held by Commerce Department officials on Monday that laid out how the Commerce Department thought callers objecting to changes in the state's unemployment insurance system ought to be answered.
"We find it highly inappropriate for any office of your administration to seek to dictate the actions of our staff without our consent or knowledge and hope your office will offer notification to legislators before conducting any such meetings in the future," Sen. Martin Nesbitt and Rep. Larry Hall, the Democratic leaders in the Senate and House, wrote in a letter to Gov. Pat McCrory.
Changes to the system will cut the amount of benefits for which those seeking unemployment insurance will qualify and would change the rules for how long someone could stay on unemployment and what sort of jobs they may be forced to take. The changes also cutoff long-term benefits paid for by the federal government to roughly 70,000 people.
“It’s clear that high-level officials in the McCrory administration recognized the harm of their policies to struggling families and sought to minimize political damage by influencing legislative staff without the knowledge of their employers," Senate Democratic Leader Martin Nesbitt said. "But more importantly, it’s inappropriate for high-level officials to be using the weight of their office to push political messages to legislative staff without informing legislators."
Dale Folwell, a former Republican lawmaker who is now an assistant commerce secretary overseeing the unemployment insurance system, says he doesn't understand the objection.
"We were just trying to help answer questions and give them a place to redirect questions," Folwell said Wednesday. "We've had a lot of calls from (legislative assistants) saying that nobody had thought to inform them about the changes."
Folwell described the meeting as "voluntary" and said it was meant, in part, to introduce legislative assistants to the employment security staff.
"Would they not have wanted us to provide information?" Folwell asked, saying that he didn't understand the objection. "They're griping about us providing customer service."