The North Carolina General Assembly would get to choose many more members of several powerful state commissions, under legislation approved by the Republican-controlled Senate on Thursday. Currently, most of the commissioners on the targeted panels are picked by the Democratic Governor.
Senate Republicans, including their top leader Phil Berger, are pushing for the changes, which would eliminate majority — or in one case unanimous — control held by Gov. Roy Cooper’s appointees. Among other duties, these eight boards and commissions approve electricity rates and road-building projects, and adopt environmental regulations.
The bill sponsors argue the changes would bring more accountability and diversity of thought on important boards that are currently dominated by the Governor’s picks.
“It’s best for the people of North Carolina if there’s a fairer balance of appointments between the executive branch and the legislative branch,” bill cosponsor Sen. Warren Daniel, a Burke County Republican, said during floor debate. “The legislative appointments are voted on by all 170 members of the legislature, not chosen by one individual.”
Cooper’s office this week called the bill an “unconstitutional power grab” by Republican lawmakers. Democratic Sen. Lisa Grafstein of Wake County said the state constitution sets limits on the General Assembly’s powers. Republicans hold veto-proof majorities in both the House and Senate.
“This bill robs the people of the right to have the Governor that they chose execute the laws consistent with the Governor’s policy preferences,” Grafstein said.
Opponents also say the bill would be unlawful in light of a state Supreme Court ruling on whether lawmakers can serve on commissions. The court has also said compositions of some boards can be unlawful when they interfere with the governor’s ability to carry out laws and leave him with no meaningful control over them.
Cooper and the Republican-controlled legislature have been fighting over their division of powers since before Cooper took his oath of office in early 2017.
The bill, which passed the chamber on a 29-18 party-line vote before heading to the House, would either shift control or eliminate over 20 commission seats otherwise filled by Cooper and future Governors. Current members wouldn’t be replaced until their terms end.
The legislature, Senate leader or House Speaker would get to make many of those appointments instead. The state treasurer, agriculture commissioner and insurance commissioner, all of whom lead executive branch departments but are elected separately from the governor, would also get to make some appointments.
For example, the Governor currently names all seven members of the Utilities Commission, which sets electric rates.
With a floor amendment approved Thursday, the commission would be reduced to five members. Two would still be picked by the governor, with two others named by the legislature on the recommendation of the Senate leader and House Speaker. The treasurer would pick the other member.
The bill would give the legislature the majority of appointments on the Board of Transportation and Economic Investment Committee, which awards state incentives to companies seeking to build in North Carolina. The Speaker and Senate leader, or their substitutes, would serve on the economic committee.
The General Assembly would make new appointments to a ninth board also getting reworked in the bill.
“We’re not concerned about the constitutionality of the bill,” said Daniel while acknowledging litigation may be coming: “Our courts are open to the citizens of the state to file a grievance.”
Republished with permission from The Associated Press.