Members of the North Carolina General Assembly hosted their counterparts from the South Carolina Legislature in a friendly, yet often intensely played, basketball game on Wednesday night at a sweltering Reynolds Coliseum in Raleigh.
The bipartisan NCGA crew, coached by Rep. Bert Jones (R-Rockingham), edged out the South Carolinians 35-27, with standout performances from freshmen Representatives Josh Dobson (R-McDowell) and Chris Millis (R-Pender).
Speaker Thom Tillis (R-Mecklenburg) played some minutes on the floor, as did Gov. Pat McCrory.
Several female members of the legislature formed a cheerleading squad for the game, donning shirts from a variety of North Carolina colleges and leading improvised cheers.
While the basketball matchup was for a good cause – collecting donations for the Food Bank of North Carolina – we also assume the ancient Law of Sport dictates that for the next year, only North Carolina is legally entitled to use the name “Carolina.”
In a dramatic finish to Wednesday’s N.C. House session, Rep. Robert Brawley (R-Iredell) resigned as co-chair of the House Finance Committee over disputes with Speaker Thom Tillis (R-Mecklenburg).
Near the end of the day’s House session, Brawley announced that he would be stepping down at the request of Tillis and handed the speaker a resignation letter, along with his gavel as committee chairman.
The House clerk then read aloud Brawley’s rather scathing letter, in which he accused Tillis of exerting influence over a bill on behalf of Time Warner Cable and of being “the champion for toll roads.”
After the letter was read, Tillis simply said, “Noted.”
He then reminded the body of a blood pressure screening being held at the legislative building and joked, “Now would be a great time to go out there.”
Audio of the letter being read can be heard below, courtesy of VoterRadio.com:
On the same day that the N.C. Senate took up a proposed budget that includes a provision to end the state’s judicial public financing program, two West Virginia Republicans came to Raleigh to explain how publicly funded court elections could raise confidence in their judiciary while boosting their state’s economy.
Last month, the West Virginia legislature adopted a judicial public financing program modeled after the system first implemented by North Carolina in 2004. At a press conference on Wednesday, former West Virginia Supreme Court Justice John F. McCuskey explained why his state looked to North Carolina when reforming its judicial elections.
“We knew that something needed to be done about the fact that money was having an inordinate influence in the selection of our highest judicial offices in our state Supreme Court,” McCuskey said. “The perception of judges being bought, rather than acting impartially, had created a great distrust among the populous.”
McCuskey’s son, House of Delegates member John B. McCuskey, shared why he, as a conservative Republican, voted in favor of a bill to permanently adopt judicial public financing in West Virginia. For him it came down to wanting to improve the economic health of the Mountain State, which he said had suffered due to the perception of an unfair court system scaring businesses away.
“As a protector of the people’s tax dollars I believe [judicial public financing] is a good expenditure, to ensure that they believe that judges that have been elected to fairly adjudicate every matter are doing so in an impartial manner,” Del. McCuskey said. “We will enhance the business climate in our state in such a way that businesses will want to move to West Virginia, knowing that in West Virginia you’re going to get a fair shake, regardless of which judge you get or which side of the issue you’re on.”
The McCuskeys also shared West Virginia’s judicial public financing experience with the N.C. House Elections Committee on Wednesday, per the request of Chairman David Lewis (R-Harnett).
Full audio of both the press conference and House committee meeting on judicial public financing can be heard with the player below, courtesy of VoterRadio.com.
Since its implementation in 2004, 80 percent of candidates for the N.C. Supreme Court and N.C. Court of Appeals have opted to participate in the judicial public financing program, which is supported by 68 percent of North Carolina voters, according to a recent poll from the nonpartisan N.C. Center for Voter Education.
Both the budget submitted by Gov. Pat McCrory and the spending plan crafted by the N.C. Senate would end judicial public financing. However, supporters of the program hope House members will opt to preserve judicial public financing when it is their turn to produce a budget in the coming days.
The N.C. General Assembly will play host to their counterparts from South Carolina in a basketball game at Reynolds Coliseum on the campus of N.C. State tonight at 6:30 p.m.
The Carolina Clash is for bragging rights over which legislative body dominates in hoops, but it’s also for a good cause – attendees are asked to bring nonperishable food items or cash contributions for the Food Banks of North Carolina.
And just to give our lawmakers some extra motivation to defend the honor of the Old North State, here’s a recent clip from South Carolinian Stephen Colbert calling North Carolina barbecue a “sauceless, vinegar-based meat product.” It’s on!
The judicial public financing program was first launched in 2004 with the aim of reducing the influence of special interest money in elections to the N.C. Supreme Court and N.C. Court of Appeals.
Under the program, the percentage of campaign contributions from attorneys and special-interest committees in these races dropped sharply from 73 percent in 2002 to just 14 percent in 2004. Over the past five election cycles, 80 percent of appellate court candidates have participated in the voluntary system, including all eight eligible candidates in 2012.
The program enjoys strong public support, with 68 percent of voters favoring judicial public financing, including 67 percent of Republicans, 69 percent of Democrats and 65 percent of unaffiliated voters, according to a poll commissioned in April by the nonpartisan N.C. Center for Voter Education.
Like the spending plan proposed by Gov. Pat McCrory, the Senate’s budget would drain the judicial public financing program of its funds. Those funds come from two sources: a voluntary $3 check-off on the state income tax form and through a $50 surcharge paid by attorneys.
In addition to providing a public financing alternative for judicial candidates, the program pays for a nonpartisan voter guide featuring all candidates for the N.C. Supreme Court and N.C. Court Appeals – regardless of whether those candidates opt to accept public financing. The guide is mailed to voters throughout the state in the weeks before Election Day.
While the N.C. Senate considers dismantling the state’s judicial public financing system, last month the West Virginia legislature adopted a similar program modeled after North Carolina with bipartisan support.
A 2011 poll from the N.C. Center for Voter Education and the Justice At Stake Campaign found 94 percent of North Carolina voters saying that campaign contributions have some sway on a judge’s decision, including 43 percent who said campaign donations can greatly affect a ruling. Among voters surveyed, 79 percent said it is a very serious problem when judges receive campaign contributions from a party with a case pending before the court.
The state Senate is poised to vote on the budget this week, with the N.C. House then taking its turn at crafting a spending plan.
“We are very pleased the Senate’s budget proposal aligns with some of our major priorities and specific goals with jobs, energy, transportation and Medicaid,” said Gov. McCrory. “However, there are several areas that need further dialogue as they differ from the budget and policies I have previously laid out.”
Several areas for further review include:
Elimination of Special Superior Court judges
Transfer of the SBI
Exclusion of drug treatment courts
No salary increases for state employees
No expansion of pre-K
No eugenics compensation
Does not allow for routine legal services in each agency
“Today is the second step of a four-part budget process. These differences are still within the general parameters of our goals, and we look forward to working with the Senate and also reviewing the House budget proposal in the coming weeks.”
The N.C. Senate released its version of a nearly $20.6 billion state budget late Sunday night.
In a press release, Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) touted the spending plan as closely paralleling the budget proposed in March by Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, noting that the two differ by “less than one-tenth of one percent.”
“This budget stands in sharp contrast to the failed attempts of previous leaders to tax, spend and borrow their way to prosperity,” Berger said. “Voters clearly demonstrated they expect their leaders to balance the budget without raising taxes – and we did that.”
The Budget & Tax Center issued a statement criticizing the proposed budget as failing to “to fully invest recovering revenues into the foundations of economic growth – our schools, courts, parks and public health systems.”
That committee is slated to take up the Senate budget on Tuesday at 8:30 a.m. Appropriation subcommittees will examine the spending plan on Monday.
Berger said the full Senate will likely vote on the budget bill Wednesday and Thursday of this week before sending it to the House for that chamber’s consideration. The current fiscal year ends June 30.
A strong majority of North Carolina voters support reforming the state’s redistricting process, according to a new poll commissioned by the nonpartisan N.C. Center for Voter Education.
The survey finds 69 percent of voters concerned about the influence of partisan politics in creating legislative and congressional voting maps. Seventy-seven percent of voters believe there is a conflict of interest when legislators draw their own districts, including 73 percent of Republicans, 76 percent of Democrats and 82 percent of unaffiliated voters.
A solid majority – 70 percent – favor giving redistricting authority to nonpartisan legislative staff. The trend holds across party lines, with 73 percent of Republicans, 69 percent of Democrats and 69 percent of unaffiliated voters favoring that change.
Recently a bipartisan group of state lawmakers, led by Republican Reps. Paul Stam (Wake) and Chuck McGrady (Henderson) and Democratic Reps. Rick Glazier (Cumberland) and Deborah Ross (Wake), introduced House Bill 606. The measure would take redistricting power away from legislators and give it to nonpartisan legislative staff for the next round of redistricting in 2021.
The bill has 61 sponsors, constituting a majority in the N.C. House, and would bar map-drawers from considering such data as the party affiliation of voters, past election results and the addresses of incumbents when creating legislative and congressional districts.
“Voters across the political spectrum want to entrust redistricting authority with a nonpartisan body,” said Brent Laurenz, executive director of the N.C. Center for Voter Education. “Such a reform could go a long way toward removing politics from the redistricting process and building confidence in our elections.”
The statewide poll of 610 North Carolina voters was conducted Apr. 24-28 by SurveyUSA and has a margin of error of plus or minus four percentage points.
A bill requiring a government-issued photo ID to vote beginning in 2016 passed the N.C. House on Wednesday and now heads to the state Senate for consideration.
After three hours of debate, the chamber voted 81-36, largely along party lines, to approve House Bill 589 (Voter Information Verification Act). The five Democrats joining a unified Republican caucus in supporting the bill were Reps. William Brisson (Bladen), Ken Goodman (Richmond), Charles Graham (Robeson), Paul Tine (Dare) and Ken Waddell (Columbus).
While explaining the bill he co-sponsored, Rep. David Lewis (R-Harnett) noted that the measure had received eight hours of public comment and nine hours of debate in three committees leading up to Wednesday’s debate on the House floor.
“This has been a fair and open and transparent process, as we committed it would be,” Lewis said.
Democrats said that although they appreciated the openness of the process in crafting the voter ID bill, they believed it was still a flawed proposal that could place undue burdens on law-abiding voters while attempting to combat already rare instances of voter fraud.
“In doing what we have done, we make the system less free,” Rep. Rick Glazier (D-Cumberland) said. “I emphatically dissent.”
At the start of the House floor debate, Democrats put forward several amendments, three of which passed with the blessing of the bill’s Republican sponsors. One allows tribal ID cards to be used for voter identification and another provides an exemption for voters who are the victims of officially declared natural disasters within 60 days before an election. A third amendment would facilitate the use of mobile DMVs to issue photo ID cards to voters in rural counties.
A series of defeated amendments proposed by Democrats would have allowed for student IDs from accredited private colleges in North Carolina, exempted voters from showing photo ID if two poll workers attested to their identity, allowed voters who lack transportation or who have a disability to vote without a photo ID and would have directed the State Board of Elections to produce a guide on the new ID requirements and mail it to voters throughout the state.
Another amendment would have allowed voters without a photo ID to cast a provisional ballot by providing the last four digits of their Social Security number, a drivers license number or their date of birth.
Rep. Darren Jackson (D-Wake) proposed an amendment to take the ID requirements for voting in person and also apply them to the mail-in absentee voting process. Opponents of the photo ID bill have criticized it for treating voters who cast a ballot in person differently from those who vote absentee, noting that absentee voting tends to favor Republicans.
“We have created two tiers of voters here,” Rep. Larry Hall (D-Durham) said.
Republicans countered that the bill adds new requirements to the absentee process, such as requiring absentee voters to provide the last four digits of their Social Security number, a drivers license or non-operator license number, or a document showing their name and address.
As passed by the House, the voter ID measure would require voters to present a government-issued photo identification when casting a ballot in person, beginning in 2016. The bill allows voters without an acceptable photo ID to acquire one at no cost to them.
The proposal would accept IDs issued by other states and IDs that have expired up to 10 years before the day of the election. For older voters, an ID that was valid when they turned 70 would remain valid for voting purposes for the rest of their life.
Voters who go to the polls without a photo ID would be able to cast a provisional ballot, but would then need to take an acceptable photo ID to their county board of elections in order for their vote to count.
A “Voter Information Verification Advisory Board” would be created by the measure, tasked with educating voters about new ID requirements. In elections before 2016, poll workers would ask voters if they have a government-issued photo ID and provide information on acquiring one.
The measure estimates that implementing the voter ID requirement could cost the state up to $3.6 million. A report issued by the State Board of Elections in March found that of the 6.4 million registered voters in North Carolina, almost 320,000 may lack a DMV-issued photo ID, one of the primary forms of identification accepted by the House proposal.
The Senate has not yet signaled its timetable for taking up the voter ID bill.
The final hour of debate and ultimate vote on the photo ID measure can be heard with the audio player below, courtesy of VoterRadio.com:
If the proposed state symbols bill does make it to the governor’s desk, this would mark a big session for opossums in North Carolina, after a measure passed earlier this year reinstated the New Year’s Eve “Possum Drop” in Brasstown:
Do you have any ideas for an official state this or that? Let us know in the comments below.