Special Legislative Session Called to Strip Governor’s Powers

Lawmakers in North Carolina called their fourth special session of 2016 at 2 p.m. EST Wednesday, December 14, 2016, after a petition for the special session passed both legislative chambers on Monday. With legislators remaining tight-lipped about the special session, House Rules Chairman David Lewis (R-53rd District) revealed that limits to the governor’s future powers was likely the topic.

North Carolina’s current governor, Pat McCrory, a Republican who enjoyed a Republican majority in the legislature during his governorship, lost to Democrat Roy Cooper in his bid for re-election. Cooper, who currently holds the position of attorney general in North Carolina, won by a margin of fewer than 10,000 votes in the November 8 election, a win not conceded by McCrory until December 5 when a partial vote recount was completed.

It was a week to the day after the state’s recount of votes in the McCrory versus Cooper election that the North Carolina lawmakers wrote up the petition seeking a special session. Either the Republican-led House of Representatives and Senate suddenly developed new thoughts, in unison with one another and outgoing Gov. McCrory, or more likely, are seeking to limit the power of the executive branch with a Democrat taking over the helm on Jan. 1, 2017.

On Wednesday, Rep. Lewis explained:

“I think to be candid with you, that you will see the General Assembly look to reassert its constitutional authority in areas that may have been previously delegated to the executive branch.”

Lewis went on to add that he and his fellow lawmakers would be working “to establish that we are going to continue to be a relevant party in governing this state.”

And “reassert” its constitutional authority the North Carolina legislature did – an authority they had no qualms about before a Democrat was elected to the state’s executive branch. One of the measures passed by the legislature gives control to the GOP of the State Board of Elections in election years and increased control of local boards of elections, something that previously gave the governor’s party a majority on those election boards. McCrory has already signed that bill, Senate Bill 4, to take effect when his successor takes office.

Another measure for McCrory’s consideration, House Bill 17, would require Senate approval of the governor’s Cabinet picks, strip the executive branch’s authority to members of the board of trustees of the University of North Carolina and reduce the number of appointments the governor can make to the state Board of Education, while also reducing the governor’s direct hire and fire employees from the current number of 1,500 to 425.

Governor-elect Cooper has threatened to challenge any new laws that would unconstitutionally limit the executive position of governor, saying: “If I believe that laws passed by the Legislature hurt working families and are unconstitutional, they will see me in court.”

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