plant with roots
Sep 22, 2017

NCGA Week in Review

Judicial redistricting continued this week as a House select committee heard comments from stakeholders in preparation to review proposed maps next week. Meanwhile, the Governor vetoed an omnibus environmental bill that was passed by the legislature last month.

Governor Cooper vetoes HB 56

Gov. Cooper issued his twelfth veto of the 2017-18 biennium on Thursday morning. HB 56: Amend Environmental Laws was passed when legislators convened in August, after being sent to conference in June during the final days of the long session. The bill proposes a number of changes to state environmental laws, including:

  • Allowing DEQ to waive the required financial assurance for risk-based cleanups in certain circumstances.
  • Amending protection of existing buffer rules to exempt certain applicability requirements for public safety.
  • Amending the rule for protection and maintenance of existing buffers in the Catawba River Basin to exempt certain applicability requirements for walking trails.
  • Establishing a study of excluding certain riparian buffers from taxation.
  • Repealing the plastic bag ban in effect for portions of the Outer Banks.
  • Appropriating $435,000 in funds to respond to the discharge of GenX into the Cape Fear River:

In his objection message and corresponding blog post , Gov. Cooper criticized the legislature for failing to provide resources to any state agencies, such as the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Environmental Quality, which requested a combined $2.6 million to “put more experts on the ground.” Additionally, Gov. Cooper objected to provisions in the legislation that he said weakens environmental protections, including the plastic bag ban repeal, which he notes is largely supported by the public and businesses in the impacted portions of the Outer Banks.

Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) and House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) both encouraged the legislature to override his veto quickly. Sen. Berger criticized the Governor for vetoing “the only proposal that will actually help clean our drinking water in the lower Cape Fear region,” while Speaker Moore called the Governor’s decision to veto the legislation “shocking.” HB 56 is eligible for consideration when legislators return to Raleigh on October 4. The conference report passed in the House with a 61-44 vote, and the Senate passed it 29-10; a three-fifths majority is needed to overturn the veto.

House Committee Considering Judicial Redistricting

On Tuesday, the House Select Committee on Judicial Redistricting held their second meeting as they work towards committee chair Rep. Justin Burr’s (R-Stanly) objective to redraw state judicial maps. While last week’s meeting was focused on informational presentations, this week lawmakers heard feedback from stakeholders.

At the meeting, stakeholders, including Superior Court Judge Joe Crosswhite and District Court Judge Athena Brooks as well as representatives from the NC State Bar and the NC State Bar Association provided comments on HB 717: Revise Judicial Districts . Comments predominately urged the committee to slow the process down and to consider the consequences of redrawing districts, which, according to stakeholders, included increased travel time, costs, and workloads, and eliminating up to half of the judges in some districts, either by double bunking two sitting judges, or eliminating the seat. The NC State Bar has not taken a position on the maps and urged the committee to “keep the effective administration of justice for the citizens of this state” as the primary goal when considering revisions to judicial maps.

Republicans supporting changes to judicial districts say that new maps are needed because districts have been largely unchanged for more than 60 years and disproportionately benefit Democrats, while Democrats argue that the effort is a pretense to partisan gerrymandering.

The committee is scheduled to meet next Wednesday, September 27 and will consider a proposed committee substitute to HB 717 as well as public comment. Rep. Burr stated that he is optimistic that the bill will be passed by the House when they convene in October. The NC Courts Commission will also take up the issue when they meet next Friday, September 29.