Legislators may be able to replace regulatory leaders

Legislative leaders in Raleigh are pushing a sweeping overhaul of state boards that would enable them to exert even more conservative influence on North Carolina.

The bill, which was approved by the N.C. Senate Thursday and will likely be debated in the N.C. House of Representatives this week, would purge all members of some of the state’s most prominent regulatory panels and reduce or eliminate some state commissions.

Senate Bill 10, the Government Reorganization and Efficiency Act, would allow Gov. Pat McCrory and legislative leaders to stock the panels with their own appointees.

Rob Schofield, director of research and policy development for the left-leaning think tank N.C. Policy Watch, said the bill would be one of the most unprecedented power grabs in the state’s history.

“It is not unlike President (Franklin) Roosevelt’s attempt to pack the Supreme Court in the 1930s,” Schofield said. “The notion that we can just throw out the people in there who have been appointed and confirmed is a pretty remarkable step.”

Members of the commissions and boards typically serve for fixed terms, and it is the governor’s responsibility to appoint new members — which the legislature then approves or rejects.

Republicans say the panels have been dominated with Democratic appointees in the past, and this bill would align commissions with the legislature’s conservative philosophy.

But Schofield said Republicans are playing hardball.

“If they have to change the rules in the middle of the game to get it done, so be it. They are willing to do it.”

Dustin Chicurel-Bayard, spokesman for the N.C. Sierra Club, said regulatory commissions composed of only Republican appointees are not beneficial to the public.

“Just purging these boards and commissions, which serve the public interest, to make purely political appointments is a disservice to the public, and it is quite reckless,” he said.

The bill could face more scrutiny in the House due to a clause that would eliminate special superior court judges.

UNC journalism professor and Southern politics expert Ferrel Guillory said it will be important to watch the McCrory administration’s reaction to the bill.

He said the bill’s current clauses could transfer some power away from the executive branch to the legislative.

For example, the governor appoints all 15 members of the Coastal Resources Commission — but the bill would reduce the amount of members that McCrory could appoint to seven.

The other four members would be chosen by Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger, R-Guilford, and Speaker of the House Thom Tillis, R-Meckenburg.

Guillory said the bill could reveal fissures between the Republican legislature and the governor’s mansion.

“After the election, it looked like this Republican juggernaut, and there are certainly elements of that, but now we are seeing that struggle for dominance even within the Republican party,” he said.

Contact the desk editor at state@dailytarheel.com.

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