Local Politics

Hackney Rolls Out New Rules for the House

Posted February 28, 2007

— House Speaker Joe Hackney rolled out new rules Wednesday for the chamber that are aimed, at least in part, at curbing some of the powers that critics say his predecessor abused.

"I've been here a long time. I have accumulated a lot of opinions about how things ought to work," said Hackney, D-Orange. "More than anything else, this is sort of how I think they ought to work."

The proposed rules governing how the House will debate and vote on legislation are an arcane topic that rarely garners attention outside of the Legislative Building. But after former Speaker Jim Black entered pleas to bribery and obstruction of justice in recent weeks, both Republicans and reform groups ramped up their demand for change.

"Right now is an historic opportunity given the cloud we're under to actually fix things and make them right from here on out," said Rep. John Blust, R-Guilford. "These are good changes, but basically the speaker can still call the shots."

Hackney shepherded ethics and lobbying reform bills through the House last year and pledged a comprehensive look at the rules when he was elected speaker in January. He said he talked with legislative staff, fellow Democrats and House Minority Leader Paul Stam, R-Wake, before rolling out the rules, which must be approved by a majority vote in the Democratic-controlled House.

The rules would prohibit the House's budget from containing policy provisions that aren't related to taxes or spending. Black was criticized last year for inserting into the budget - with little debate - a provision requiring all public school children to get a comprehensive eye exam before entering kindergarten.

Federal prosecutors also said Black used his power as Speaker to insert into the 2005 budget a provision that benefited chiropractors while three industry members were giving him thousands of dollars in illegal cash.

Hackney's rules would also eliminate the right of a handful of House members to sit on any committee. Started during Republican control of the chamber in the mid-1990s, the so-called "floaters" give the majority party extra votes to push through legislation.

Another rule would generally prevent the House from considering legislation on the same day it clears a committee, but the majority party still gets to control what bills are heard on the floor and in committee.

"It does not guarantee every member that their bills will come to the floor, or even in the priority of things that all bills will be heard," Hackney said. "Judgments have to be made."

The new rules include several recommendations of the bipartisan North Carolina Coalition for Lobbying & Government Reform, including a ban on blank placeholder bills that can be used to sneak in last-minute legislation.

Hackney said he did not include a rule change to impose term limits on the speaker, because he and others believe that would likely require a change to the state constitution. He didn't say whether there would be debate on the topic this year.

The House Rules Committee will consider the rules Thursday, said Rep. Bill Owens, D-Pasquotank, the committee's chairman.

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  • BlarneyStone Mar 1, 2007

    North Carolina has a history of having one of the country's most corrupt governments. Maybe we should join back with South Carolina and become one state again.?!

  • RedStatesManWatts Feb 28, 2007

    How about this new rule : NO MORE DEMOCRATS ALLOWED!!!

  • woody Feb 28, 2007


  • stevensstuartharold Feb 28, 2007

    can't we accept and move that out state gov't been corrupt like this 150 yrs and move on

  • GoodToGo Feb 28, 2007

    I tried to post a comment about the Nifong ordeal...guess I didn't say what WRAL wanted me to say....I must not have supported their views on the subject....guess this news stoy doen't need screening...wonder why some do and some don't.....

  • twright530 Feb 28, 2007

    I have known Joe Hackney for a long time and he will do a good job at keeping the legislators straight. There will always be bumps in the road but he will not be making rocks for the governors driveway in the end.

  • Nobody but Carolina Feb 28, 2007

    Yes, he is eligible since he was in political office for 20 years, unless rules and laws change. Unfortunately those types of changes don't usually end up being backdated, so Black would probably end up in a "grandfathered" situation.

  • planter Feb 28, 2007

    Where is the legislation that prevents someone from receiving taxpayer funded pensions if convicted of a crime while serving as an elected official, particularly when using the office to line his pockets? I don't want any of my money ending up in Jim Black's pocket. Is he eligible to receive anything from the state?