NCGA Week in Review

September 22, 2017

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Judicial redistricting continued this week as a House select committeeheard comments from stakeholders in preparation to review proposed mapsnext week. Meanwhile, the Governor vetoed an omnibus environmental billthat was passed by the legislature last month.

Governor Cooper vetoes HB 56

Gov. Cooper issued his twelfth veto of the 2017-18 biennium on Thursdaymorning.HB 56: Amend Environmental Lawswas passed when legislators convened in August, after being sent toconference in June during the final days of the long session. The billproposes 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 hisobjection messageand correspondingblog post, Gov. Cooper criticized the legislature for failing to provide resourcesto any state agencies, such as the Department of Health and Human Servicesand the Department of Environmental Quality, which requested a combined$2.6 million to “put more experts on the ground.” Additionally, Gov. Cooperobjected to provisions in the legislation that he said weakensenvironmental protections, including the plastic bag ban repeal, which henotes is largely supported by the public and businesses in the impactedportions 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. Bergercriticizedthe Governor for vetoing “the only proposal that will actually help cleanour drinking water in the lower Cape Fear region,” while Speaker Moorecalledthe Governor’s decision to veto the legislation “shocking.” HB 56 iseligible for consideration when legislators return to Raleigh on October 4.The conference report passed in the House with a 61-44 vote, and the Senatepassed 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 theirsecond meeting as they work towards committee chair Rep. Justin Burr’s(R-Stanly) objective to redraw state judicial maps. Whilelast week’smeeting was focused on informational presentations, this week lawmakersheard feedback from stakeholders.

At the meeting, stakeholders, including Superior Court Judge Joe Crosswhiteand District Court Judge Athena Brooks as well as representatives from theNC State Bar and the NC State Bar Association provided comments onHB 717: Revise Judicial Districts. Comments predominatelyurgedthe committee to slow the process down and to consider the consequences ofredrawing districts, which, according to stakeholders, included increasedtravel time, costs, and workloads, and eliminating up to half of the judgesin some districts, either by double bunking two sitting judges, oreliminating the seat. The NC State Barhas nottaken a position on the maps and urged the committee to “keep the effectiveadministration of justice for the citizens of this state” as the primarygoal when considering revisions to judicial maps.

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

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