Raleigh, N.C. — The first bill taken in up a Senate committee this session would charge the Department of Public Instruction $100,000 for the state's legal fees to fight a DPI lawsuit.
Last November, the State Board of Education sued the state and the Rules Review Commission, arguing that the board's powers under the state constitution should exempt its policy decisions from administrative review.
Senate Bill 14, heard Tuesday morning in the Senate Appropriations Committee, requires DPI to transfer $100,000 to the Rules Review Commission to pay for the state's defense.
"That’s the lawsuit that we’re not real sure why it’s out there, to be honest, but it is, and we've got to deal with it," said bill sponsor Sen. Harry Brown, R-Onslow. "There’s precedents for many, many years that should have prevented this lawsuit."
Brown said the money would be taken from DPI's legal budget, which he said is about $372,000.
"We’re just taking a piece of that to make sure we’ve got experts on our side," he said. "You’ve got to have dollars to litigate, and this addresses that issue."
"If they’re going to go out and file these frivolous lawsuits," added Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, "we may have to revisit this and go out and find more money."
The legislature has already set aside funding to pay for outside counsel for legal challenges in addition to its standard representation by the state Attorney General's Office. Several such cases are ongoing.
The bill also requires DPI to use $275,000 in funding for vacant positions to fund the Academic Standards Review Commission, the panel charged with rewriting the state's curriculum after lawmakers repealed Common Core last year. It bans the commission from using any of the money to conduct or pay for opinion surveys on the matter.
It also spells out how much the Department of Public Safety will get in industry fees from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to fund the state's Coal Ash Management Commission.
"Due to the timing of the Duke (Energy) receipts coming in, the commission will not have the money it needs to operate through the end of the year," Brown explained. "DENR has had a little bit of a problem allocating those dollars out to the commission."
"It appears we’re having to manage the bureaucracy by legislation," commented Sen. Joel Ford, D-Mecklenburg. "Can you explain why?"
"I agree," answered Brown. "But sometimes you just have to make things clear, and that’s what this bill does."
The proposal passed the committee unanimously and could be on the Senate floor Wednesday.