In Face Of Angry Protests, Lawmakers Strip Executive Powers

Dec 16, 2016

Protesters Jenny Lynch of Apex, left, and Heidi Alcock of Chapel Hill.
Credit Jess Clark / WUNC

The General Assembly building on Jones Street in downtown Raleigh literally shook Friday as protesters reached a boiling point over bills Republican lawmakers had pushed through during a surprise special session.

Despite the protests, lawmakers concluded the session Friday afternoon, passing two bills that curb the powers of incoming Democratic governor Roy Cooper.

One, House Bill 17, slashed the number of hires the governor will be able to make from 1,500 to 300, and requires General Assembly approval of the governor's cabinet members. It also moved powers from the state board of education to the newly elected Republican state superintendent. Governor Pat McCrory has to sign the bill for it to become law. State board of Education Chair Bill Cobey, a Republican, opposes H17, and has said he thinks the bill may be ripe for a constitutional challenge.

A second bill, Senate Bill 4, dissolved and reconstituted the state elections board, giving the body equal weight to both parties. The executive branch has historically appointed all five members of the state board of elections, but could  only appoint three members from the same party. Now the legislature will appoint half of a new 8-member board. The governor will appoint the other four. McCrory has already signed this measure into law.

At least 30 protesters were arrested Friday by Capitol police.

Manju Rajendran of Durham. She interrupted the Senate's debate on House Bill 17. The gallery as ordered cleared, and she was led out in zip-tie cuffs.
Credit Jess Clark / WUNC

Protesters and Democrats in the House and Senate accused the Republican-controlled General Assembly of a power grab. With Pat McCrory, a Republican, leaving office and Cooper coming in, they say Republicans in the General Assembly are trying to weaken the powers of the executive branch as much as possible.

Republicans say they are returning powers to the legislative body that it is allowed by the state constitution.

Cooper said Thursday he would bring a court challenge to any new law he thinks is unconstitutional.