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UPCOMING EVENTS

  • Our friends at Neighbors on Call are sponsoring a series of "NCGA 101" events with local legislators in Durham, Chapel Hill, Hillsborough, and Pittsboro. Register and share!
  • 2020 will be here before we know it, so why not get some GOTV training with You Can Vote? Check the calendar of events for voter education workshops.
  • NC Open Gov. Coalition and the Elon University School of Communications host Sunshine Day on March 11 to celebrate openness and transparency in North Carolina government. Register here.

In yesterday's post, Kate asked when we could expect to see criminal charges against McCrae Dowless - and the answer is now. He's been arrested and charged with multiple felonies related to his handling of absentee ballots in the 2016 election and 2018 primary. It seems likely that more charges against him and others will be filed related to the 2018 general election. Four others face charges of conspiracy to obstruct justice and one count of possession of an absentee ballot in the earlier elections.

Gov Cooper just announced the election schedule for NC-03 to fill Walter Jones's seat: April 30 primary, July 9 general election if no runoff, otherwise Sept. 10. The schedule for NC-09 is controlled by the NC Board of Elections (BoE) and will be announced on Monday. Here's what we know so far about whether the new voter photo ID law will apply to these two special elections:

We were all riveted last week by the NC-09 story unfolding at the Board of Elections, but the NC General Assembly (NCGA) also was plugging along with its unfolding long session. It's relatively early, especially with the rumors that this session may extend into August (it usually ends by early July). Bills are being introduced and the wheels are starting to roll, so we'll take a few minutes today for an "NCGA 101" review.

The NCGA is the main legislative body for the state and, like the US Congress, comprises two houses, the House of Representatives and the Senate.

  • The House includes 120 representatives, one from each House district in the state.

    • Representatives serve two-year terms.
    • The presiding officer is the Speaker of the House, elected by House members for a two-year term. This person controls the calendar and determines if and when bills are scheduled for a vote - which is a powerful tool to wield.
    • The current Speaker of the House is Republican Tim Moore from House District 111, Cleveland County.
    • There are 55 Democrats and 65 Republicans currently serving in the NC House. The Democrats gained ten seats in 2018, so Republicans can no longer over-ride gubernatorial vetoes with party-line votes.
  • The Senate is made up of 50 senators representing the 50 Senate districts.

    • Senators also serve two-year terms.
    • The lieutenant governor, elected by voters for a four-year term, is the presiding officer/president of the Senate. This person presides over the daily sessions, but only casts tie-breaking votes. Republican Dan Forest is our Lt. Governor.
    • The Senate elects officers from among its members, including the President Pro Tempore. This person controls the calendar and determines if and when bills are scheduled for a vote.
    • The current President Pro Tempore is Republican Senator Phil Berger from Senate District 26, Guilford and Rockingham Counties.
    • There are 21 Democrats and 29 Republicans currently serving. The Democrats gained six seats in 2018, so Republicans can no longer over-ride gubernatorial vetoes with party-line votes.
  • Legislative committees are where most of the daily work of the NCGA occurs.

    • Committees have jurisdiction over specific topic areas; this allows for specialization on a few topic areas by members.
    • Committees often are divided into subcommittees that handle smaller issues in a committee’s jurisdiction.
    • Committee assignments are made by the majority and minority floor leaders or the heads of parties. In practice, the Speaker of the House and President Pro Tempore name most committee chairs and appoint committee members.
    • The partisan composition of a committee reflects the composition of the relevant chamber of the NCGA.
    • There are two ways you you can see what committees YOUR state senator and representative sit on:
      • Go the Committees page, then use the pull-down menu on the right, "go to committee assignments for."
      • Find their page: NCGA website, top right corner, "view member info," "select a member," then "go." Once you're on their page, you'll see tabs for their biography, introduced bills, votes, and committees. This is more clicks, but gives you more information about them. Need to find out who represents you?
    • Committee members have a lot of power over which bills come to the floor, and committees are where constituents often have the greatest impact - so it's worth finding out your legislator's committee assignments. Even 10-20 constituent phone calls or emails on a specific bill can have an impact at the committee stage, and an actual mailed letter gets major attention.
    • An old rule first used, then abandoned, by Democrats was reinstituted for this session. From WRAL, "The rule change in House committees allows for four "floaters," members of the legislative leadership who can sit in on committee meetings and vote bills and amendments up or down." This is widely seen as a tool for diminishing the power of the increased number of Democrats in both chambers.

Most legislators are on multiple committees, and they often/sometimes have some experience or interest in the field that the committee considers. When a bill is introduced, it is sent to the most relevant committee. This committee deliberates over whether to approve the bill, and if so, the bill will be forwarded to another relevant committee for consideration or placed on the calendar to be voted on by the House or Senate. Bills must be approved by both chambers and the governor before becoming law. Our friends at Stronger NC created this easy guide to how a bill becomes law, check it out!

There may be political or practical reasons why legislators prefer not to consider or vote on bills. When that happens, the bill is often sent without action to the House or Senate Rules Committee, aka the grave yard, where it sits until the session ends and it dies. Some bills never make it out of Rules in the first place.

We've seen some crazy bills introduced as the 2019 session begins! This is the time that extremist "political theater/pandering to the base" bills are introduced, many for the umpteenth time. While it's important to track these bills, it's reassuring to remember that most bills that are introduced never become law. They're introduced so their sponsor(s) can say, "I tried to outlaw gay marriage/get rid of gun laws/make Christianity the state religion, and they wouldn't let me."

We also have to remember that the Republicans saw what happened in 2018 and are worried about what will happen in 2020, so they may push their agenda even harder this year in a last-ditch effort to make lasting extremist changes. It's up to US to pay attention and keep that from happening We're tracking important bills and will let you know when your calls and emails are needed. Forward together for a better NC!

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