Raleigh, N.C. — Good morning, and welcome to Today @NCCapitol for Friday, March 1. This is WRAL's roundup of what you need to know about North Carolina state government this morning.
ROAD TRIP: Lawmakers have wrapped up work for the week and won't reconvene until Monday night. Top leaders are expected to be in Raleigh today for a conservative leadership conference, but the only committee meeting is one that recommends technical changes to state laws.
Meanwhile, Gov. Pat McCrory will be on the road. He is scheduled to read "Oh, the Places You'll Go” by Dr. Seuss to children at Upward Elementary School in Flat Rock this morning and then tour downtown Black Mountain around lunch time.
NOTED: McCrory has four bills pending on his desk as of Friday morning, according to the legislative bill tracking system. They include a fix to the mental health group home problem, a measure to turn down expansion of federal funds under Obamacare, a bill to curb protests at military funerals and, of course, the possum drop bill.
BOARDS BATTLE: The battle over a bill that would remake dozens of state boards and commissions proceeded in fits in starts Thursday, with even some House Republicans complaining loudly about the process used to bring the measure to a vote. After taking a detour into the House Rules Committee Thursday morning, Senate Bill 10 popped onto the floor and received 70-42 vote after hours of tense debate.
A final vote on the bill is due Monday night. Although specifics vary depending on the commission, the measure gets rid of roughly 160 appointed officials over help oversee state agencies, clearing out Democratic appointees so that Republican Gov. Pat McCrory and his legislative allies can replace them.
The House version of the bill went through a dizzying number of changes in just 36 hours. It was added to Thursday's House calendar without public notice, after additional changes were made in a Rules Committee meeting earlier in the day. The biggest change to the bill came Wednesday and sheds a provision to eliminate special superior court judgeships favored by the Senate. But the basic approach of reshaping terms and firing appointees remains.
Some members, mainly Democrats, were trying to make changes on the House floor. Rep. Pricey Harrison, D-Guilford, for example, tried to gut the measure by removing a section dealing with the bulk of the board seats in the bill. That was defeated openly. But GOP leaders used a procedural move to bury a proposal to slash the six-figure salaries of Utility Commissioners. The amendment, run by New Hanover Democrat Susi Hamilton, would have cut the salaries of Utility Commissioners from more than $120,000 a year to about $80,000.
Even Republican lawmakers expressed uneasiness with the bill. Several of the changes made in committee Thursday were designed to ensure boards like the Industrial Commission didn't loose all of their institutional experience at once. And a move to shift Administrative Law Judges away from an agency overseen by the courts to an agency overseen by the governor was dumped.
Rep. John Blust noted the speed with which all of those changes had happened.
"I don’t like this idea, 'Well we have the power, let’s go ahead and do it,'" he said. "Just because we have power we need to be judicious with it. I wish we would be more careful with it." Process matters, he said, and voters won't look kindly on the GOP if Republicans are seen as abusing their power.
"Why do we all think that's such a small, slight thing?" Blust asked. "Whether you like it or not, due process means notice to be heard and at least have your point of view considered."
WRAP: Capitol Bureau Chief Laura Leslie and reporter Mark Binker tie up the boards and commissions bill and look ahead to next week in Thursday's version of The Wrap @NCCapitol.
OTHER ACTION: In other legislative action Thursday:
- A Senate Committee approved a bill that would ad those convicted of human trafficking to the state's sex offender database.
- The House passed a bill to allow schools to use lottery funds for technology needs.
- Liberal groups urged the legislature to extend the earned income tax credit.
FILED: Bills of note filed Thursday include:
- a measure that would allow the City of Charlotte to use existing local taxes to fund renovations to the Panthers' stadium. The bill does not approve any new taxes or state spending.
- a bill that would ensure drivers licenses issued to immigrants remaining in the U.S. under the federal deferred action program had drivers licenses that looked the same as all other licenses.
- a bill that would allow insurance companies to opt out of the rate bureau process. Insurers pushing for the measure say it will allow them to offer new and innovative products. Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin says it will lead to higher rates for almost all drivers.
- a bill filed by Rep. Bert Jones, R-Rockingham, to eliminate straight-ticket voting.
SEQUESTER FESTER: Our man in D.C. writes, "Members of North Carolina's congressional delegation were bitter Thursday that $85 billion in federal spending cuts would take effect Friday, eventually hitting everything from the military to airports to public schools."
APPOINTED: Gov. Pat McCrory has appointed Andrew T. Heath of New Hanover County to the Industrial Commission. According to a news release, "Heath currently serves as an attorney at Hedrick Gardner Kincheloe & Garofalo, LLP in Wilmington, where he gained experience defending cases before the Industrial Commission. Heath previously worked at Butler & Butler, LLP and The Cole Law Firm, PLLC. He serves on the New Hanover County Bar Association Board of Directors, received his law degree from the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law and received a degree in Management at the University of North Carolina at Asheville. Heath will replace Staci Meyer on the Commission." The General Assembly will have to confirm the appointment.