This week in Raleigh
RALEIGH, N.C. -- The stage may be set for Gov. Roy Cooper's first veto after lawmakers this week delivered a bill making elections for local court judgeships officially partisan again.
Under the measure judicial candidates would go through party primaries. Unaffiliated candidates could still run if they collected enough voter signatures. The move to nonpartisan races began in the 1990s as a way to distance the judicial branch from partisanship and the campaign money associated with it.
But Republicans argue that partisanship never left judicial races and the lack of information about a candidate's political affiliation on ballots simply deprives voters of a useful piece of information. The bill "restores a commonsense and straightforward partisan election system that lets voters know who shares their views on the proper role of the judiciary," Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, said when the bill cleared his chamber earlier in the week.
Cooper told reporters that he believes moving back to partisan races is a bad idea. "I have real concerns about throwing judicial elections back to the partisan arena," the Democrat said Tuesday. "I think it's important that they stay out of that as much as possible. I don't like it."
But it appears Republicans could have the margins to override any veto based on House and Senate floor votes on the measure.
Also moving through the Republican-controlled legislature is a trio of bills that would limit Cooper's authority to mold the judiciary. Two shifted the power to fill vacancies in some local judgeships from the governor to the legislature. A third would reduce through attrition the number of judges on the Court of Appeals from 15 to 12, potentially keeping Cooper from naming replacements.
IN OTHER BUSINESS:
Legislative Power: A panel of North Carolina judges appeared skeptical Tuesday that Republican legislators acted constitutionally by suddenly adopting a series of new laws undercutting the governor's authority two weeks before the Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper took over. The three-judge panel spent five hours listening to lawyers for Cooper and the state's legislative leaders. Cooper is challenging laws giving the GOP-led Senate authority to approve or deny the governor's picks for 10 state agencies, strip the governor's power to run the state's elections, slash by 70 percent the number of loyalists he can hire and extend civil service protections to hundreds of political appointees of former Republican Gov. Pat McCrory.
Education Spending: Senate Republicans want to use more North Carolina Education Lottery proceeds generated from expanded advertising to build more schools in poor counties and increase compensation for principals and assistant principals. Three senators filed legislation Thursday that would spend at least $100 million in lottery profits during the next fiscal year. Most of the funds would go to a grant program matching local money for school construction in the neediest counties. A separate proposal revives efforts to help college students pay for their education in return for working in the state's schools.
Young Offenders: North Carolina is one of just two states where 16- and 17-year-olds are automatically prosecuted as adults, but opponents of the practice hope new momentum could finally change that. Legislation filed Wednesday in the state House would shift the cases for those teens accused of misdemeanors and non-violent felonies to the juvenile court system, and would make other juvenile justice changes. "Aside from it being the right thing to do, it's fiscally the right thing to do," said Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson, one of the bill's chief sponsors.
Drone Flights: Worries about drone operators transporting weapons and cigarettes to prisoners are leading lawmakers to make it a crime to steer the small flying machines near jails and prisons. The House Transportation Committee approved legislation Tuesday making it illegal to fly an "unmanned aircraft system" within 500 feet of a state or federal correctional facility or up to 250 feet above the location without proper consent.
Human Trafficking: A group of law enforcement officers, truckers and others teamed up Thursdayto talk about human trafficking and efforts to stop it in North Carolina. The state, with its college towns, military bases, agricultural land, Interstates 95 and 85 and 301 miles of ocean shoreline, consistently ranks high in human trafficking, according to N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein. Human trafficking is an illicit industry that is estimated to be worth $32 billion in the United States alone and $150 billion globally, according to TheTrucker.Com, a news site for truckers.
Bag Ban: A local state representative has filed a bill calling for a repeal of the ban on Outer Banks stores using plastic bags. The ban is a financial hardship to businesses and hinders their ability to hire more people, according to the legislation filed Tuesday by Rep. Beverly Boswell, R-Dare. The General Assembly put the ban in place in 2009. Supporters of the ban argued that plastic bags harmed animals such as sea turtles who mistake them for food.
Drunken Boating: The House passed a bill that would require someone convicted of felony death by impaired boating to serve time in jail. Under current law, it's the court discretion to give an offender an intermediate punishment, instead of an active sentence for a first offense.
Protection Detail: Former governors who have just left office would be entitled to a state bodyguard for a year if they request one, under a bill filed Thursday in the General Assembly. The bill is prompted by a January confrontation in Washington, D.C., involving former Gov. Pat McCrory. A group of people yelling “Shame!” chased McCrory and called him a bigot for his support of House Bill 2. Under Senate Bill 229, immediate past governors could occasionallyreceive protection from a member of the State Highway Patrol.
Flu Deaths: North Carolina health officials say 17 people died from the flu last week, marking the fourth straight week that the death toll reached double digits. The latest information from the state Department of Health and Human Services released Thursday shows all 17 deaths were adults. There had been pediatric deaths in four of the five previous weeks.