Local Politics

Perdue seeks redistricting panel, session limits

Posted December 15, 2010 11:06 a.m. EST
Updated December 15, 2010 6:33 p.m. EST

— In a rare appearance by a governor before a legislative committee, Gov. Beverly Perdue on Wednesday asked state lawmakers to keep the sessions of the General Assembly short and to create a special commission to handle redistricting next year.

Perdue also asked that lawmakers remove a provision that exempts them and their staff members from state open records laws.

The governor told members of a House budget committee that North Carolina's financial situation is dire and that Republicans and Democrats need to work together to close a projected $3.7 billion shortfall without affecting state services too much.

Last week, she proposed consolidating several state agencies, freezing state hiring and a legislative review of scores of state-funded boards and commissions as ways to streamline government and save money.

"I ask you to help me transform North Carolina's government and services as we also transform the way this body works," Perdue told lawmakers Wednesday. "We have a significant and powerful opportunity to write this chapter of our state's history."

She asked that legislative sessions be limited to 90-days in odd-numbered years, when lawmakers hammer out details of the two-year state budget, and to 45 days in even-numbered years. That would save money and eliminate much of the partisan bickering that has marked recent sessions, she said.

Although lawmakers embraced the concept of shorter sessions, some were skeptical of the governor weighing in on the issue.

"I hope we don't go to any mandatory session limits," House Speaker Joe Hackney said.

"Whether we do that with a constitutional amendment or just through discipline and common sense is something we'll work out in the session," said Rep. Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, who will become House speaker next month.

Perdue also wants lawmakers to create a bipartisan citizens commission to aid with drawing the new boundaries of congressional and legislative voting districts.

Republicans have sought such a panel for years, but the Democratic legislative majority never took up the issue. The GOP now controls both the House and Senate, following major victories in last month's election.

Perdue oversaw the Senate 10 years ago as lieutenant governor during the last redistricting, but she never asked for a bipartisan group to assist that process. She said Wednesday that no one ever asked her for such a panel.

"I don't recall a lot of discussion about it when the Democrats were in control," she said.

Republicans said it's too late to form a commission, but they promised fair districts.

"It seems a bit disingenuous to me to call on us to do something we've been asking for at a time to do it right before the redistricting year," Tillis said.

Finally, she said, lawmakers' e-mails, letters and phone logs regarding bills under consideration should be subject to state open records law.

"We appreciate her candor and feedback, and in that spirit we hope she's ready to accept our candor and feedback," Tillis said.