Legislation on the Fringes: North Carolina & the Politics of the "Emergency Session"

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On Wednesday, December 14, the North Carolina General Assembly (NCGA) convened for their fourth emergency session of 2016. Although some of these sessions have been necessary (e.g., Tuesday’s dealt with funding disaster relief after Hurricane Matthew), they have begun to take on a familiar tone. Instead of using them to address real emergency issues, North Carolina’s Republican-led legislature has adopted the “emergency session” as a means of passing partisan legislation that could easily be addressed in their regular sessions.

They called such a session in March.

What was that emergency? A local non-discrimination ordinance protecting the LGBTQ community passed in Charlotte.

In response to the ordinance, the leaders of the NCGA called an emergency session—against the recommendations of the governor—to pass House Bill 2, the bill which has become a national lightning rod over the past several months due to its relationship to transgender rights. It outlawed local laws on protected categories, affected civil rights suits, and declared a state-wide bathroom policy for public facilities.

Now, in the waning days of the year, the NCGA’s leaders have called a similar session.

What is this new emergency? A Democrat will be governor.

A week after Governor McCrory conceded to Roy Cooper, NCGA Republicans have decided to attempt to strip the governor’s office of several of its powers.

For example, as a graduate student, for me, one of the most concerning pieces of legislation under consideration during this session is HB17. It proposes, among other things, an amendment to the state’s statutes concerning the governance of its public universities. Instead of the governor appointing four members to each university’s Board of Trustees—as has been the case for over forty years—the NCGA is appropriating this power for themselves. This proposal is a short-sighted, purely partisan effort. North Carolina Republicans are attempting to use their super majority in the NCGA to strip the executive branch of its powers so that it can maintain its stranglehold on the North Carolina university system after Cooper’s inauguration.

This legislation is lacking in several regards.

First, forming legislation on the basis of who is entering into an office is not the foundation of sound policy. Such an approach to governance is myopic. It fails to consider the possibility of future role reversal, and it ignores the fact that the original structure was adopted for a reason.

Second, the current system has a rational logic behind it. It is grounded in the balance of power between governmental branches. Presently, the Board of Governors, which is appointed by the legislative branch, appoints eight members of the Boards of Trustees, while the Governor appoints four. The proposed legislation removes this balance of power, making all members of the state’s universities’ governing boards either direct or indirect (through the Board of Governors) appointees of the legislature.

Third, this change has no obvious benefits to the University system or the citizens of this state. Instead, since diversity encourages the development of dynamic and substantial ideas through debate and compromise, such a change proposes a considerable risk to state-sponsored education by eliminating one of the few systemic mechanisms for introducing heterogeneity into the system’s governance.

As this emergency session continues and the Republican party proposes legislation to undermine the incoming administration, North Carolinians need to begin to question how these sessions are being used. Not only are they costing the state money (ca. $42,000 per day), but they are being used to propose poorly written, rushed bills that endanger the state’s democratic values and encroach upon individuals’ rights for the sake of partisan values.

Edit: Added omitted 0 to $42,000 figure.