Under the radar: Significant state changes obscured by redistricting and budget battles

While 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 evisceration of the current nonpartisan elections in the state, including judgeships, and a radical restructuring of the powers currently vested in the state board of education, allocating them to one person. In addition, the local bill that would require district elections for the Buncombe County Commission also moves forward to a Senate hearing, having passed the House last week.

The relatively quiet SB 456, known as the 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; it is slated for a hearing at 10 a.m. on Tuesday in that committee. The bill would allow candidates to list party affiliation (or unaffiliated status) on the ballot in all elections, which includes nonpartisan elections such as Asheville City Council or local/state judgeships. WNC co-sponsors include Republicans Jim Davis of Franklin and Ralph Hise of Spruce Pine.

Perhaps even lower under the radar, HB 823 (Governance of Department of Public Instruction) would amend the N.C. Constitution to devolve various powers now held by the N.C. Board of Education into the hands of one person — the superintendent of the N.C. Department of Public Instruction. The superintendent would become the chair of that department and the current State Board of Education would become an advisory body. Membership on the board, which now includes the lieutenant governor, treasurer, and 11 members appointed by the governor, would be reconstituted to include the lieutenant governor, treasurer, superintendent of public instruction, three members appointed by governor, four appointed by speaker of the House, four by the president pro tempore of the Senate. Notably, the following powers would be removed 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
The bill has a hearing scheduled in the House Education Committtee at 10 a.m. on Tuesday. WNC co-sponsor is Buncombe County Republican Tim Moffitt.

One bill that is not yet seeing the light of day, juxtaposed against the current public hearings on this year’s redistricting activity, is SB 591, the Horton Independent Redistricting Bill, which was referred to Senate Judiciary on April 14. The bill calls for a constitutional amendment to establish an independent redistricting commission charged with revising Senate and House districts in the state, effective in 2013 (following the current redistricting process). The commission would have 11 members: 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.

Other bills currently scheduled to see some movement this week include the following:

HB 168 (Farms Exempt from City Annexation/ETJ Zoning): Prohibits involuntary annexation of property used for bona fide farm purposes; exempts such land from municipal zoning or inclusion in extraterritorial planning/zoning jurisdiction. WNC co-sponsor, Republican Phillip Frye of Spruce Pine. Passed House April 13; Senate Committee on State & Local Government, noon, Tuesday.

HB 200  (Appropriations Act of 2011): Much-amended budget bill for 2011-2013. Passed the House May 4; slated for hearings in Senate Appropriations on General Government and Information Technology at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday and Wednesday; Senate Appropriations on Education/Higher Education, 10 a.m., Tuesday.

HB 471 (Buncombe County Commission Districts): Increases commission membership from five to seven and establishes district elections for members, countywide election for chair. Primary sponsor, Moffitt. Passed House May 2; hearing in Senate State & Local Government, noon, Tuesday.

HB 572 (Accountability for Publicly Funded Nonprofits): Requires any corporation receiving public funds in the form of grants or loans to provide its latest financial statements or copy of its IRS 990 at the written request of any member of the public. WNC co-sponsors, Moffitt and Republican Roger West of Marble. House Judiciary Subcommittee A, 10 a.m., Wednesday.

HB 687 (Local Abuse of Authority Attorneys Fees): Allows a plaintiff to recover attorney fees when contesting a city or county ordinance or administrative action when that ordinance or action was without proper authority and qualifies as an abuse of authority. Co-sponsor, Moffitt. House Judiciary Subcommittee A, 10 a.m., Wednesday.

HB 762/HB 374 (Landowner Protection Act): To protect landowner rights and increase public safety, requires written permission to hunt on land of another statewide; prohibits hunting from right-of-way statewide. WNC sponsors: House co-sponsor, Moffitt. Senate primary sponsor, Republican Tom Apodaca of Hendersonville; co-sponsor, Hise. House Agriculture, 1 p.m., Tuesday.

HB 823 (Governance of Department of Public Instruction): See main text above.
House Education, 10 a.m., Tuesday.

SB 33 (Medical Liability Reforms): Currently in Edition 5; reforms current laws relating to money judgments and medical liability, including changes regarding medical care and records review, standards of practice requirements, and liability limit of $500,000 for noneconomic damages. WNC primary sponsor, Apodaca; co-sponsors, Davis and Hise. Passed House on April 20; failed Senate concurrence April 26; conference committee appointed April 26.

SB 125/HB 264 (NC School of Biotechnology and Agriscience): Text/content has changed from establishing a school of biotechnology and agriscience at the Vernon G. James Research & Extensions Center based at NCSU’s Tidewater Research Station in Washington County, to a general bill permitting local boards of education to jointly establish regional schools — which may be in partnership with other education partners including institutions of higher education or private businesses or organizations — to foster development of knowledge and skills in career clusters critical to the region. Senate Finance, 1 p.m., Tuesday.

SB 456 (Candidate List Party or Unaffiliated Status): See main text above. Senate Committtee on Judiciary, 10 a.m., Tuesday.

by Nelda Holder, contributing editor


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2 thoughts on “Under the radar: Significant state changes obscured by redistricting and budget battles

  1. Mick Ballantine

    Sounds like the republicans are going to wrest away a century-old democrat hold on power at the local level and state level. At least the democrat corruption will now come to an end.

  2. Barry Summers

    So maybe Moffitt is the crazy clown they send out to distract us so we won’t notice they’re making off with the good silverware?

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