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NC Lawmakers Poised To Strip Executive Powers

Protesters descended on the N.C. General Assembly Thursday evening.
Jeff Tiberii

After an acrimonious day that led to protests and arrests, lawmakers are likely to give final approval Friday to bills that would remove executive powers.

On Thursday, hundreds of protesters gathered at the N.C. General Assembly to voice their opposition to these Republican policy proposals and chanted in unison, "Shame! Shame! Shame! Shame! Forward together, not one step back!"

The legislative proposals, Senate Bill 4 and House Bill 17, would weaken the power of the executive branch, which is switching parties when Governor-elect Roy Cooper takes office in January, and shift that power to the legislative branch, which will remain in Republican control.

"It’s just unconscionable, it’s unethical," said Yevonne Brannon, a voice among the protesters. "And it doesn’t allow any input from the public, or even the legislators haven’t had chance to read these bills or vet these bills or really even have a discussion."

Brannon was not among the at least 20 people who were arrested. Protesters disrupted both the House and Senate chambers. Leaders had to call recesses, and clear the galleries. 

The Senate bill is a proposal to eliminate the state board of elections, enhance the role of the state’s appellate court, and create partisan judicial elections. The House bill would require the governor’s cabinet secretaries to receive senate confirmation, remove significant educational authority from the governor, and reduce administration staff positions by 80 percent.

Read: Roy Cooper Harshly Criticizes Republican Lawmakers

"You're in danger of making bad policy because it hasn't been vetted in committee," said Billy Richardson, a Democrat from Cumberland County. "This legislation is too serious, it’s too important to the people in the North Carolina. Remember, people thought we were coming up here to work on the hurricane, not on this kind of far-reaching legislation."

Democrats, at times interrupted by the protesters echoing the same concerns, have spent two days criticizing the content and the process of these proposals. They say this entire special session, the fourth of 2016, is unconstitutional. But Republicans say they have firm footing to proceed. 

"I think anything we can do to restore a little bit of the authority to the legislature that they gave up in the 1980s, is doing a corrective action to partially rebalance what I think it a state government that has been way out of kilter," said Representative Jeff Collins, who is from Nash County.

Each bill moved through one chamber yesterday, and is expected to pass through the other body on Friday. This is proceeding in a General Assembly that has two Republican supermajorities, just weeks before Democrat Roy Cooper is set to replace Republican Governor Pat McCrory.

Protests erupted Thursday at the N.C. General Assembly
Credit Jess Clark / WUNC
Protests erupted Thursday at the N.C. General Assembly

Republicans convened earlier this week to address disaster relief for victims of hurricane flooding and mountain wildfires. Once that was done, they pivoted to a major legislation.

"Just the speed at which they've moved through, ... is really mind boggling," said David McLennan, a professor of Political Science at Meredith College. "The two bills together are probably the most comprehensive set of bills that we've seen in 30 years that have changed the entire power relationship of the state government."

Under these two bills the Governor is largely removed from having significant influence over K-12 education – handing powers back to the State Superintendent. A Republican takes over that post next month. The requirement for cabinet secretaries to receive confirmation would keep this governor from appointing anyone too liberal, with an agenda that runs counter to the conservative ideologies in the General Assembly.

Roy Cooper harshly criticized Republicans on Thursday. "If I believe that laws passed by the legislature hurt working families and are unconstitutional, they will see me in court – and they don’t have a very good track record there," he said.

Jeff Tiberii covers politics for WUNC. Before that, he served as the station's Greensboro Bureau Chief.
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