Today in the legislature November 15

I would post the Environmental Review Commission agenda, but it is not online yet. The meeting starts at 9:30 a.m. and if in Room 544, which has audio.
Also on the schedule . . .
– 10:00 AM, Justice Warren Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention Task Force, 1027/1128 LB
– 10:00 AM Career and Technical Education Committee (LRC)(2011), 415 LOB
– 10:00 A.M. – 3:00 P.M. Certificate of Need Process and Related Hospital Issues, House Select Committee on, 643 LOB

Hre’s the select committee’s agenda

I. Welcome and Opening Remarks
Representative Fred Steen and Representative John Torbett
II. Approval of Minutes

III. Certificate of Public Advantage Audit
Christopher B. Taylor, CPA, Assistant Secretary, North Carolina Medical Care Commission
K. D. (Kip) Sturgis, Assistant Attorney General, North Carolina Department of Justice
David Motsinger, CPA, Partner, Dixon Hughes Goodman LLP

IV. Update on Recent Court of Appeals Decision in Novant Health v. NC DHHS.
Jan Paul, Research Division

V. Finalize Recommendations for Committee Report

Final Meeting
Thursday, December 6, 2012
10:00 am Room 544 LOB

Mining and energy board appointments an interesting mix

The usual end-of-session appointments bill has a long list of folks Speaker Thom Tillis wants to see sitting on various boards, including the new Mining and Energy Commission, which is not quite law yet.
One of the new members, Charles Holbrook seems to have a problem with the idea of man-made climate change and a lot of opinions on other matters. Another, Ray Covington owns a ton of land in the shale gas region and has a company that’s been working with landowners on lease deals. I just talked to one informed observer who wondered how the guy could ever vote on anything fracking related given his conflicts.
Oh, and nominee Christopher J. Ayers is a lawyer who represents the energy industry.

Google away.

SECTION 1.29.(b)  If Senate Bill 820, 2012 Regular Session, becomes law and Senate Bill 810, 2012 Regular Session, does not become law, then the following shall be appointed to the North Carolina Mining and Energy Commission: Charles E. Holbrook of Moore County (Seat 7) for a term expiring on June 30, 2014, Raymond T. Covington of Guilford County (Seat 4) and Christopher J. Ayers of Wake County (Seat 6) for terms expiring on June 30, 2015, and Charles Taylor of Lee County (Seat 5) for a term expiring on June 30, 2016.

House rejects Senate sea level rise bill

The North Carolina House just voted 114-0 not to concur with the Senate’s version of H819, Coastal Management Policies.
Citing the controversy over the sea-level rise language in the bill Rep. Pat McElrath, the sponsor of the original house version, asked that the bill be sent “into study” provided that conferees can be appointed.

With the legislature getting ready to pack up, that likely means the end of the sea-level rise legislation for this session.

Vote on ethics, election finance reporting merger passes 15-11

Long, testy debate on a bill moving around departments that deal with lobbying, ethics and campaign finance reporting ends in a close vote. Opponents say there wasn’t ample time to review how creating a new board and department to deal with the three functions would affect the work.
Lots of discussion on moving around IT people. The worry seems to be focused on moving campaign finance reporting out of the purview of the state Board of Elections.
I wonder how this is going to change the timeliness and accessibility of the reports. Since money is the mother’s milk of politics, reporting on money is the mother’s milk of campaign coverage. How the board that’s overseeing this work is appointed, how efficient it is and how responsive it is to the public is going to dictate how open and transparent our elections will be.
Shifting this around just prior to a monster election year seems like a case of terrifically bad timing – or worse.
Rep. Deborah Ross, who said the people in the department have raised concern about the measure, offered an amendment to make it a study bill, but that was soundly defeated. So, what’s the rush?

Here’s what Democracy NC had to say about it:

Shotgun Merger of Agencies Shields Officials from Scrutiny, Hundreds of Campaign Reports Are Already Not Audited

A nonpartisan watchdog group is sharply criticizing a proposal in the state Senate’s budget bill to merge and cut the funding for three agencies that now oversee the ethical conduct and campaign activities of state legislators, thousands of other public officials, and hundreds of lobbyists.
The proposal would combine the State Board of Elections, State Ethics Commission and the lobbying regulation division of the Secretary of State’s office into a new agency by January 1, 2012, and put it under the control of General Assembly leaders. The newly created State Board of Elections and Ethics would have a smaller staff, less money and a nine-member board with six members appointed by legislative leaders and three by the governor.
“These are the agencies that guard the public’s trust in government. They hold officials accountable for the honest performance of their duties, and they’re already straining to do their jobs right with limited resources,” said Bob Hall, executive director of the Democracy North Carolina. “The way this merger is being pushed so rapidly, crammed inside a budget bill without a thorough study, is completely irresponsible and highly suspicious. You have to wonder if the Republicans are trying to cripple these agencies and throw them into a state of confusion during the upcoming election.”
The new agency would have 20 fewer positions (15 currently filled) and $1.4 million less a year* to register voters, administer elections, oversee the conduct of public officials and political appointees, regulate lobbying and campaign financing, and enforce more than a thousand pages of state law.
Hall said his concern over the merger was heightened after discovering one area where funding cuts are already blocking public accountability and transparency. A review by Democracy North Carolina of files at the State Board of Elections found that hundreds of campaign finance reports for candidates to the General Assembly in 2010 have not yet been audited, in violation of state law.
“The public has a right to know how money is moving through our election system, who’s cheating and who wants to buy influence,” said Hall. “More cutbacks and this shotgun merger will just shield politicians from scrutiny and reduce transparency, just the opposite of what Republicans promised.”
NC General Statute 163-278.24 says campaign reports must be examined “within four months after the date of each election” to “determine whether the statement conforms to law and to the truth.” Candidates file up to six reports during an election cycle to disclose details about their contributions and campaign spending. But due to budget cutbacks, the State Board of Elections has been forced to lay off clerical and other staff, leading to a large backlog of reports to analyze.
Democracy North Carolina discovered that 651 (44%) of the 1,492 reports filed by the winning and losing legislative candidates in the 2010 general election have not even been entered into a database for preliminary analysis by the Board of Elections staff, much less been audited for errors, missing information, and possible criminal violations.
Paper copies can be viewed through the Board’s website, but some are illegible and it’s impossible to perform the required audit until the information is keyed into the Board’s database. Getting the information from the disclosure reports into the Board’s database is the first step of the auditing process and also makes campaign contributions accessible in a searchable format on the Board’s website.
Hall noted that the Board’s database still does not contain any of the campaign reports for 2009 or 2010 for 49 of the 170 General Assembly winners, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown and House Majority Leader Paul Stam. Paper copies of the reports were submitted but they remain unprocessed.
Altogether, 405 of the 960 reports filed by the 170 legislative winners in 2010, or 42% of the reports, have not been entered into the database for processing and have not been audited.
In addition, hundreds of reports for political action committees (PACs) and local and state political parties have also not been entered into the Board’s electronic files for processing.
(You can view a committee’s report at and see if the report is only an Image of the paper report or if the Data has been entered into the
Board’ s data file.)
“There’s a perception that record amounts of money flooded the General Assembly elections in 2010, but we still don’t have a handle on where it all came from, who deserves kudos for reporting accurately, and who’s violating the law by withholding information,” said Hall.
“The 2012 election will be unbelievably expensive, with hot national and state contests and more spending by secretive groups, corporations and unions following the Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United case,” he said. “Some politicians, but not all are just as happy to keep us in the dark.”
Hall noted that many freshmen Republicans were elected on a promise to increase transparency in government, but they submitted their disclosures report in paper form only, rather than expedite the audit process by filing them electronically.
“Instead of crippling agencies charged with protecting honest government, more candidates should be required to file reports electronically to expedite the auditing process,” he said.

(full report pdf)

Let’s hear it for transparency

Updated: Strange version of a late Friday news dump but apparently the House Republicans held their strategy discussion with an open mike in the room that was broadcasting to the press room.

Mr. Binker has the audio at the end of his blog post, which features this splendid example of bipartisanship:

Stam emphasized that only Rep. Davis Lewis, a Harnett Republican and chairman of the Elections Committee, should speak to the redistricting provisions “because David can obfuscate more than anyone I know.”

Here’s the audio embed via the News & Record:

Some of the what was noted in the Under the Dome story:

House Speaker Thom Tillis reminded members not to talk about “Democrats,” but to counter individuals by name.

“This is not about Democrats, because we have Democrats voting for this budget,” he said. “Please, do not go after the Democrats. If you want to go after an individual member for saying something stupid, gut punch them. These five Democrats are going after her (Gov. Bev Perdue.) We’ll go after the governor; when we have a veto override.”

WRAL had this tidbit about redistricting strategy from the same meeting:

Stam explained that for redistricting, “The plan all along has been to submit this to the courts, rather than the Department of Justice, since this will be the first redistricting plan under the Voting Rights Act submitted to a DOJ controlled by Democrats, let alone Obama.”

(The DC Circuit Court, which is where the redistricting plan would go, is considered quite conservative.)

“Y’all need to be raising money for our outside counsel for after session adjourns,” Stam joked.

(More later, I’m sure)

In the Char-O Michael Biesecker (who should get the hat tip for this one) highlights the main reason we’ll see a rush for a constitutional amendment to “protect” marriage:

Rep. Mark Hilton, a Catawba Republican, told members of his caucus in a closed-door meeting today that groups supporting a constitutional gay-marriage ban need a vote this year so they can organize their get-out-the-vote campaigns.

Budget cuts and the environment

Following are a series of posts on specific proposed cuts in the budget that will threaten environmental protection, land conservation and long standing programs aimed at guarding public health as well as our natural resources.

For an overview on the impact of state budget cuts and environmental policy shifts take a look at the Exile on Jones Street column in this week’s Indy.
The money quote:

If you measure the success of the GOP leadership in the General Assembly by its ability to turn back the clock, there are few triumphs that will top what has happened to environmental policy, especially the dismantling of the lead agency, DENR, charged with protecting it.

At risk is not just the regulatory framework that protects our air, land and water resources, but some of the “goodliest lands” the state has proudly sworn to protect and conserve.

Budget cuts that are jeopardizing our environment

Here’s the first column for the Indy in several years. Glad to be back doing it. Not happy about having to share this unfortunate bit of news.

If you measure the success of the GOP leadership in the General Assembly by its ability to turn back the clock, there are few triumphs that will top what has happened to environmental policy, especially the dismantling of the lead agency, DENR, charged with protecting it.

N.C. House budget cuts are jeopardizing our environment