NCMatters: Under the radar

As the N.C. General Assembly’s redistricting hearings conclude and the Senate takes up the budget passed by the House last week, a number of individual bills with wide-ranging effects are slated for committee hearings this week, flying under much of the news radar.

At play will be the potential dismantling of the state’s current nonpartisan elections, including judgeships, and a radical restructuring of the powers currently vested in the State Board of Education, allocating them to one person. Meanwhile, having passed the House, a local bill requiring district elections for the Buncombe County commissioners moves on to a Senate hearing.

The relatively quiet SB 456, known as Candidate List Party or Unaffiliated Status, was introduced and referred to the Senate Committee on Judiciary I at the end of March with no further action until now; at this writing, it’s slated for a May 17 committee hearing. The bill would allow candidates to list party affiliation (or unaffiliated status) on the ballot in all elections, including such nonpartisan contests as Asheville City Council or local/state judgeships. WNC co-sponsors include Republicans Jim Davis of Franklin and Ralph Hise of Spruce Pine.

Attracting even less attention, HB 823 (Governance of the Department of Public Instruction) would amend the N.C. Constitution to hand off various powers now held by the State Board of Education to the superintendent of the Department of Public Instruction (see below). The superintendent would now chair that department, and the current State Board of Education would become an advisory body.

The bill would also give legislators more power — and the governor less — to appoint the board’s members. Currently, board members include: the lieutenant governor, treasurer and 11 members appointed by the governor. The bill proposes changing that to: the lieutenant governor, treasurer, superintendent of public instruction, three members appointed by governor, four appointed by the speaker of the House and four by the president pro tempore of the Senate.

The following powers would be taken away from the board and given to the superintendent:
• alter boundaries of city school administrative units and approve agreements for the consolidation and merger of school administrative units located in the same county;
• make provisions for sick leave and for substitute teachers;
• certify and regulate the grade and salary of teachers and other school employees;
• adopt and supply textbooks;
• adopt rules requiring all local boards of education to implement the Basic Education Program;
• establish benchmarks by which to measure the progress.

At presstime, the House Education Committtee had scheduled a May 17 hearing on the bill, which is co-sponsored by Buncombe County Republican Tim Moffitt.

Amid the current public hearings on this year’s redistricting activity, one bill that’s not yet seeing the light of day is SB 591, Horton Independent Redistricting Commission, which was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee April 14. It calls for a constitutional amendment to establish an independent redistricting commission charged with revising the state’s House and Senate districts. The 11-member commission would include: four Republicans, four Democrats and three unaffiliated with either of the state’s two largest parties. Members would be selected from a screened pool of candidates through a process designed to provide diversity and transparency. The revision would take effect in 2013, after the current redistricting process is complete.

— Nelda Holder can be reached at nfholder@gmail.com. Follow our Statehouse news at mountainx.com/special/ncmatters.

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