Senate GOP seeks to sweep oversight boards
Posted February 5, 2013
Senate Republican leaders are moving quickly on a proposal to fire all current members of key oversight and advisory boards.
Introduced in Senate Rules Committee Tuesday morning, Senate Bill 10 would effectively fire all members of the Utilities Commission, Environmental Management Commission, Coastal Resources Commission, Lottery Commission and Wildlife Resources Commission.
Gov. Pat McCrory and Republican lawmakers would then be able to reappoint board members who agree with their philosophy, essentially clearing out Democrats and other dissenters whose terms haven't yet expired.
The bill would also abolish several other boards and commissions, including the Charter School Advisory Committee, the Lottery Oversight Commission, the Turnpike Authority and the Board of Correction.
Another provision would have added two justices to the North Carolina Supreme Court, appointed by McCrory, which would essentially allow the governor to stack the court without an election. That provision was dropped from the bill in committee after it reportedly failed to gain support in the House GOP caucus meeting Monday.
Sen. Tom Apodaca, chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, promised the concept would be revisited later this session.
Sen. Bill Rabon, R-Brunswick, is the bill's sponsor. He says it's all about downsizing and efficiency, and he says it's not unprecedented. Former administrations have sometimes reconfigured or expanded boards to give their party a political edge, he said.
Sen. Minority Leader Martin Nesbitt said the current membership of those boards have accumulated experience. "There's something to be said for having some continuity," he protested.
Rabon said current members can always reapply.
Sen. Josh Stein, D-Wake, said the Utilities Commission has done a good job with difficult issues. "What have they done to deserve being fired?" he asked.
Rabon said the Utilities Commission is perceived by some as a rubber stamp that doesn't reflect the values of the current administration.
After just 15 minutes of discussion, the bill passed easily along party lines.
After the meeting, Stein called the proposal a "power grab" that's "breathtaking in its scope," noting that many of the boards in the bill's cross-hairs were created to protect consumers, injured workers and the environment.
"They're going after everything so they can put their stamp on it," Stein said. "Commissions are supposed to be independent; they're not supposed to be ideological. And I fear they're trying to politicize state government in a way that will hurt North Carolinians."
Rabon called that characterization "unfair."
"We're cleaning up some things that have been left behind," he said. "We're trying to become more efficient, save the state money, and as I said, give the administration a chance to do what the people have requested."
Senate Bill 10 could be on the Senate floor Tuesday afternoon or Wednesday.