Democrats question legality, as Republican Caucus takes over legislature

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Legislative flood gates were lifted open Wednesday night in North Carolina’s capitol. A third special session for this legislative season was focused on the victims of more than just floods, but rain and fire that devastated North Carolina communities from the mountains to the coast. But a little after noon, the agenda changed.

Immediately after the unanimous passage of the disaster relief bill in the Senate, an announcement: the proclamation of a fourth special session. The purpose of which was “Concerning any matter the General Assembly wishes to consider,” according to R Rockingham Senate Majority Leader Phil Berger.

It’s a move that multiple Democratic lawmakers have criticized and characterized as “an abuse of power,” by D Guilford Representative Chris Sgro. Democrats stood on the House floor, protesting the constitutionality of the fourth special session. D Wake Representative Darren Jackson said “This is the reason why people don’t trust us.”

Senate President Dan Forest and House Speaker Tim Moore sent out a letter to certain members of the General Assembly to call a special session, needing a three-fifths majority of signatures. Democrats say they did not receive those notices, but with a supermajority of Republicans, the GOP Caucus could bypass. The signatures were collected by the clerk’s office on the morning of Dec. 14, but the send out date of the letters marks Dec. 12.

Representative Jackson pointed this date difference out on the House floor during his questioning of constitutionality. Speaker Moore acknowledged the protest but assured the process was done by the book.

A filing deadline was set for 7 p.m. in the House, later pushed back to 7:30 p.m. because of the flood of bill filings. Twenty-eight bills have been proposed, three of which are related to rules of the session and closing the session. The topics range as some policy bills were resurrected from a previous session. Regulation reform, boards of election make-up, court appointments, the number of employees who serve at the pleasure of the governor and more are all in play. Most bills were introduced by Republicans.

Here you can find the Senate and the House bills filed.

Bills will be assigned to committees, if they haven’t already, tomorrow for lawmakers to workshop before any vote.

Democrats still question the legality, of the described party, described as a “power grab,” but Speaker Moore referenced precedent of General Assembly majorities calling for a special session. The Democratic response below:

NC Republicans Propose Unprecedented Power Grab

RALEIGH, N.C – After Governor Pat McCrory was voted out of office in a historic election, North Carolina Republicans are attempting to thwart the will of the voters and take back the power they have lost.

“This is an unprecedented, shameful and cowardly power grab from Republicans. After losing the Governor’s office, the GOP-controlled General Assembly is attempting to hold on to the power that voters took away from them. Make no mistake, the legislation we are seeing today are attempts from Republicans to usurp power from Governor-elect Roy Cooper after losing the election. Republicans should be ashamed of these unprecedented power grabs that have no place in our democracy,” said NCDP spokesman Jamal Little.

With no advance notice, in a surprise 4th special session, House Republicans introduced a whirlwind of bills to strip power from Governor-elect Cooper.

Top 6 NCGOP Power Grabs

1. Making 1,200 McCrory political appointees permanent state employees

On November 8, North Carolinians voted for a change in their state government. With House Bill 17, The legislature is trying to violate the will of the people, by declaring that Governor-Elect Cooper will only be able to declare 300 state employees exempt, 1,200 employees fewer than Governor McCrory was afforded in 2013, and 100 fewer than under Gov. Perdue. Strikingly, it would not allow Governor-Elect Cooper to declare any positions exempt in the North Carolina Office of State Budget and Management or Office of Human Resources.

2. Giving the Senate unprecedented approval power over Cabinet Secretary appointees

House Bill 17 would require Senate approval of Governor-Elect Cooper’s cabinet appointments, an unprecedented infringement on the discretion given to North Carolina’s governors to pick their own cabinets.

3. Needlessly giving control of Department of Information Technology to the Lt. Gov.

Without explanation, House Bill 6 makes the Department of Information Technology an “independent” agency, whose chief executive is appointed by the Lieutenant Governor. This strips Governor McCrory of one of his proudest accomplishments, which was making DIT a cabinet agency.

4. Taking control of the board of elections.

Currently, the county and state board of elections have a majority board from the Governor’s party.

SB4 would give power to the General Assembly to appoint half of the board. In election years, it would also set the Board’s chairperson as being from the party with fewer registered voters. The Republican Party currently trails the Democratic Party in party registrations by more than 600,000 voters. Effectively, this would guarantee Republican chairpersons in election cycles for years.

5. Lame duck appointments

SB 4 would give lame duck Governor Pat McCrory the power to appoint the chair of the industrial commission before he leaves office.

6. Appointments for McCrory insiders

Senate Bills 6 and 7 will give lame duck Governor Pat McCrory the power to appoint two Special Superior Court justices before he leaves office. One of the appointees, Andrew Heath, was Governor McCrory’s budget director and has limited legal experience.