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Bill That Retools Boards And Commissions Advances

A bill that would immediately fire members of some of the most important state boards and commissions has advanced in the state Senate. Senate Bill 10 would sack members of the Utilities, Environmental Management, Industrial, and Wildlife Resources Commissions, among others. Democrats call it a blatant power grab, but Republicans say it will streamline state government.

The bill made it to the Senate floor yesterday afternoon, just one day after it was presented in a committee. Its sponsor, Senator Bill Rabon, told colleagues that by eliminating some state boards and modifying others, the measure will benefit North Carolina.

"What we're doing here in following the promises that many of us ran on- to make government more efficient, to downsize it to save money and carry out our role as legislators."

In a committee meeting on Tuesday, Rabon said the bill would allow boards and commissions to be run by newcomers who would be willing to carry out the philosophy of the new Republican-led administration. By wiping the slate clean of members who are currently serving, Governor Pat McCrory and legislative leaders would have the opportunity to hand-pick those slots. That has caused great outcry among Democrats, including Senator Josh Stein.

"You all propose to eliminate the commissioners whose job and expertise it is to serve the people of our state whether it's the people in the form of a rate payer, consumer of electricity, whether it's a citizen who wants to have a beautiful environment, lovely coast, or an injured worker at the industrial commission.

Stein says governors and lawmakers certainly have the power to appoint whomever they choose to state boards. But it shouldn't be done all at once.

"To wholesale eliminate dozens of people with all their expertise and knowledge is just bad policy. You all in this bill agree with that concept because throughout this bill all the new commissions have staggered terms."

Republican lawmakers don't dispute the idea that staggered terms on these commissions are useful. But they take umbrage with the assertion that firing members of key state commissions isn't right. Senator Jerry Tillman pointed out that previous governors have also made changes to state commissions to suit their needs, although on a much smaller scale.

"There's a new management team in town, voted on by the people, and they deserve the right to put in their people. When the NFL hires a new coach for whatever team, they're going to put their people in. You don't want boards and commissions, making policy and rulemaking that may be at cross purposes with the management team- don't work."

But firing members of the state's most important commissions isn't all this bill seeks to accomplish. It would also allow the governor to choose the head of the state Board of Education- currently that person is voted in by members. And it would eliminate 12 Special Superior Court judge positions created years ago. Republican Senator Robert Rucho says there's a reason why he believes those judges should go.

"There are many of us in the Senate and General Assembly who believe that a Superior Court judge should not be appointed at large in that manner, but more importantly, ultimately, come from a Superior Court District like the rest of them do. And this is really the first step toward moving in that direction."

Those judges are currently appointed by the governor rather than elected. There was some question on the Senate floor yesterday whether or not it's constitutional for state lawmakers to remove positions that are made by appointment. One Republican, Senator Fletcher Hartsell had concerns about that. But others, including Republican Senator Tom Apodaca, urged colleagues to pass the bill and then let the courts work those problems out. The bill tentatively passed the Senate and is headed for a third reading later today.


Jessica Jones covers both the legislature in Raleigh and politics across the state. Before her current assignment, Jessica was given the responsibility to open up WUNC's first Greensboro Bureau at the Triad Stage in 2009. She's a seasoned public radio reporter who's covered everything from education to immigration, and she's a regular contributor to NPR's news programs. Jessica started her career in journalism in Egypt, where she freelanced for international print and radio outlets. After stints in Washington, D.C. with Voice of America and NPR, Jessica joined the staff of WUNC in 1999. She is a graduate of Yale University.
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