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RALEIGH — With the legislative session moving ahead more or less on schedule and most of the executive branch operating as though it’s business as usual, it’s easy to forget that there’s a fairly robust legal battle going on between Gov. Pat McCrory and the N.C. General Assembly.
Last week, both McCrory and state legislative leaders filed briefs in a lawsuit brought by the governor over what he says is legislative overreach on appointments.
The governor, who was joined in legal action by predecessors Jim Hunt and James Martin, won round one in the battle earlier this month when a three-judge panel ruled that the legislature overstepped its authority when it set up a new coal ash management commission with a majority of legislative appointments. The court sided with the governor’s assertion that the move violated the state constitution’s separation of powers requirement.
While the case works its way through appeal, there’s little doubt that the legal battle continues to strain relations between the governor and the legislature.
The immediate reaction by House and Senate leaders to the governor’s court victory was to place his appointments on hold.
While there’s been no further official actions beyond the hold on appointments, tensions appear to be growing, with legislative leaders vowing to fight the ruling and the governor stepping up his open criticism of legislative priorities.
Speaking to a gathering of municipal officials, McCrory took issue with both the legislature’s newly unveiled economic incentives bill and efforts to redraw election districts in Greensboro and Wake County.
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Henderson County Republican Rep. Chuck McGrady, one of the House’s four main budget chairs, indicated that the fallout over the case could go much farther.
“The lawsuit is certainly not the way to make friends and influence people,” McGrady said in an email to Carolina Public Press. “If the governor is trying to build goodwill with the legislature, the lawsuit is not helpful. If he is trying to separate himself from the legislature, I guess the lawsuit will help.”
McGrady, who spent much of last session working on coal ash legislation, which included the commission challenged by the governor, said the lawsuit could create image problems for the governor as well.
“The governor is a former Duke Energy official, so he chooses to litigate his appointments argument on the Coal Ash Management Act of 2014. What kind of impression does that leave?” McGrady asked.
Meanwhile, the impact of the ruling goes beyond the feud between the branches. The Coal Ash Management Commission, which held its swearing-in ceremony and first meeting the day after the governor’s lawsuit was filed, canceled its next meeting.
Also complicating matters are two more lawsuits similar to the governor’s.
The Southern Environmental Law Center is challenging the authority of the state’s new Mining and Energy Commission, which is in charge of writing and adopting rules for natural gas exploration. And the state Board of Education is challenging the constitutionality of the Rules Review Commission, a body completely made up of legislative appointees who oversee executive branch rule making.
Buncombe County Democrat Sen. Terry Van Duyn joined Sen. Jeff Tarte, R-Mecklenburg, at a press conference last week announcing new legislation to eliminate the state’s religious exemption to vaccinations.
Van Duyn said it was troubling to see Buncombe County leading the state in the rate of unvaccinated children. More than 4 percent of the children in the county are unvaccinated compared to the statewide average of 1 percent.
The legislation, similar to bills proposed in more than a dozen other states, is, in part, a reaction to recent outbreaks of measles and whooping cough due to lower rates of vaccinated children.
The bill would require all children entering public school in the state to be vaccinated against more than a dozen diseases and conditions.
With deadlines for local legislation approaching, a flurry of school calendar bills are moving through the House and Senate.
Filed in the wake of scheduling snafus to make up for the time lost during recent winter storms, the bills would grant wider flexibility for local school boards to adjust their school calendars.
The list of bills and school districts so far include:
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Asheville City and Buncombe County (H280);
Transylvania County (H251);
Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Caldwell and Watauga counties (S244);
Madison, Mitchell and Yancey counties (S228);
Avery, McDowell and Mitchell counties (H155); and
Haywood, Madison and Yancey counties (H94).