Raleigh, N.C. — The state House rejected a compromise measure Thursday that would strip several boards and commissions of Democratic appointees, with lead negotiators saying it would unseat two judges appointed by Republican Gov. Pat McCrory.
Rep. Tom Murry, R-Wake, said the "technical error" wasn't found until after the House and Senate negotiators had signed off on the report. Both the House Republican and Democratic leaders urged their members to vote against the measure.
"We were trying to get it right, and we almost did," Murry said after the House session.
By the time the House voted 116-0 to reject the measure at about 2:15 p.m., the Senate had already voted in favor 32-18.
Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, the chamber's Rules Committee chairman and a primary sponsor of the bill, seemed incredulous of the House explanation.
"Why did they sign the conference report?" Apodaca asked, adding that negotiators had worked on the bill for weeks. Asked how the error might be fixed, Apodaca said he didn't know.
"We're not going back to the table on Senate Bill 10," he said, noting that parts of the measure could get dumped into other measures.
Murry, too, seemed unclear how a bill whose conference report had been rejected might be revived.
A legislative bill-drafting expert said that the same conference committee could draw up a new report on the bill or that the two chambers could appoint new conferees, so the measure is not dead.
Republicans hold the majority in the House and Senate, and the Democrats have decried parts of the measure that strip Gov. Bev Perdue's appointees out of boards such as the Lottery Commission, who would be fired as soon as McCrory signed the bill.
"The bill remains a power grab that's going to be detrimental to the people of North Carolina," said Sen. Josh Stein, D-Wake.
Current appointees, Stein said, should be allowed to serve out their terms and replaced by McCrory under the current schedule. That, he said, would avoid a loss of institutional knowledge.
Two judgeships in question
When the bill first went through the Senate, one of the most controversial provisions would have fired 12 special Superior Court judges immediately. House lawmakers stripped that measure, creating one of the biggest differences between the two chambers.
In the compromise, most special Superior Court judges appointed before April 1 would be allowed to serve out their terms. After their terms are completed, the governor would no longer be able to appoint a replacement.
The "technical error" with the bill revolves around the April 1 date. McCrory appointed two judges after that date, but those judges, a former district court judge and district attorney, haven't yet taken their seats.
The bill also keeps three business court judges, who handle complex financial cases, on the books.
Sen. E.S. "Buck" Newton, R-Wilson, announced he would vote against the bill by mocking the compromise on judges.
"The paragons of courage over in the House have ensured that these patronage appointees will continue to serve," Newton said. He said the state should be using more than $2.2 million used to fund special judges to pay for regularly elected judges.
"We sorely need this money in other places," Newton said. "It's a shame. It's disgusting. It's indefensible."
Other senators endorsed the change with regard to judgeships, saying that removing judges before the ends of their terns might be unconstitutional.
"We were going to lose a lawsuit," said Sen. Dan Blue, D-Wake.
Climate provision inserted
An entirely new provision of the bill went unremarked upon in the Senate debate.
Attached to a section eliminating the Legislative Commission on Global Climate Change, the conference committee added language restricting the actions of other state agencies.
The new language prevents and state agencies from doing anything to with regard to "the development, promotion, dissemination, or implementation of a statewide climate change action plan or adaptation strategy, unless such activities are specifically authorized by the General Assembly."
The bill adds, "This shall not prevent individual State agencies from addressing climate or weather-related issues or events that are within the scope of their existing agency duties and responsibilities."
The bill doesn't directly address actions by cities and counties, which had been controversial when put forward in other bills.