Editorial: A terrible, horrible, no good, very bad bill

Posted April 12, 2017 5:00 a.m. EDT

A CBC Editorial: Wednesday, April 12, 2017; Editorial # 8147
The following is the opinion of Capitol Broadcasting Company

The North Carolina General Assembly is where terrible ideas go to live forever.

These horrible ideas, seemingly banished by court decisions, public revulsion or sheer stupidity, manage to spontaneously regenerate in the most unlikely places.

Take the no-good idea of combining the state Board of Elections and state Ethics Commission.

It was about a month ago when a three-judge panel said the legislature’s December extra-session attempt to merge the two boards was a very bad idea and amounted to an unconstitutional grab of the governor’s power.

But what does a bipartisan panel of judges know?

Last week a one-page Senate-passed bill to “promote student attendance in school and participation in class” was transformed late at night into a 15-page rewrite of the agencies that oversee state elections and government ethics. The next day the bill suddenly appeared before the House Elections Committee with an undetailed demand that it MUST get a full house vote before Easter.

Rep. David Lewis, who shepherded the resurrected bill through the House, said it addresses Constitutional concerns by allowing the governor to appoint the eight members of the new commission – though he must appoint them from recommendations made by Republicans and Democrats. Like the previous unconstitutional bill, Democrats would lead the evenly split board in odd-numbered years and Republicans in even-numbered election years.

The committee bypassed rules that require re-written bills be available to legislators by 9 p.m. the previous day. There wasn’t any input on the bill from the public, the state elections or ethics boards, nor any local elections boards.

It is unfortunate that legislative leaders seem more concerned about tinkering with the administration of elections rather than working on ways to increase turnout and making it easier for those who are eligible to register and cast ballots.

The bill was passed on a partisan vote in the House last week and the Senate needed only to hold a single affirming vote to send it onto Gov. Roy Cooper.

Cooper’s already labeled the legislation “another attempt to rig our state and county election boards” and promised he would “veto it, and if necessary … take legal action to protect the integrity of our electoral system.”

It is no accident that our state constitution, four times, notes that all bills “shall be read three times in each house” before they can become law. The notion is that with each “reading” there is the opportunity for legislators – and more importantly the public – to have the opportunity to examine the legislation’s purposes, strengths and weaknesses.

With each reading, there is the opportunity to question and debate the worthiness of the proposals.

The scheme used by Lewis and his fellow legislative leaders is a violation of the spirit of transparency and circumvents our constitution.

The governor is correct to threaten a veto. Legislative leaders should heed that threat and, at a minimum, open the bill to a through public airing – including public hearings with generous opportunities to hear from elections and ethics officials, as well as those involved in elections on the local level.

Better yet, the Senate should employ some better judgment and let this bad bill die the death the bipartisan judicial panel intended.

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