Legislative News by Nelda Holder –
Legislature Now Faces Court-Ordered Deadline
The 2017 “long” session of the North Carolina General Assembly that ended on the last day of June failed to deal with the court-ordered redrawing of racially gerrymandered districts. This was in spite of the urgings of citizen groups and a call for a special session in June made by the governor, then cancelled by the Legislature.
The leadership’s plan, instead, was to address the issue of redistricting in a November special session. But a panel of three U.S. District Court judges, at the behest of the U.S. Supreme Court, has given the Republican leadership no more choice in the matter. Noting that the General Assembly “has had ample time to enact a remedial districting plan,” the judges have ordered the Legislature to redraw the unconstitutional district lines by September 1, with a potential 14-day extension provided specific progress has been made.
The state’s legislative maps were first drawn in 2011. A lawsuit in 2015 charged that African American voters had been unconstitutionally “packed” into nine specific Senate districts and 19 House districts, which a three-judge panel agreed with in 2016. That case was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which declared in June of this year that the 28 districts were racially gerrymandered and returned the case to the lower court for further proceedings.
“We … agree that constitutionally adequate districts should be enacted as quickly as possible to protect the rights of North Carolina citizens and to minimize any chilling effect on political participation attributable to the continued absence of a districting plan in the face of a finding of unconstitutional racial gerrymandering,” the new district court order states.
The panel did not, however, require a special election for the to-be-created districts. Speculation is that the redrawing could create changes in up to 116 of the state’s 170 state legislative districts. That would be 68 percent of our state’s districts reconfigured for the 2018 legislative elections, although the Buncombe County area districts are not expected to change.
Special Session Number 1 has come and gone in Raleigh
The “long” session of the state’s bicameral legislature ended around 2 in the morning of June 30, with a schedule set for two future special sessions — one to convene August 3 to consider a circumscribed list of possibilities (including bills involving litigation and actions regarding gubernatorial vetoes). Another was to convene on September 6, but that date has been changed now to potentially include revising judicial divisions of the State and revising districts and their apportionment.
The August special session did not take up redistricting, as had been contemplated; nor did it review any of the governor’s vetoed bills. Appointments were made (Senate Bill 689) to fill seats on boards and commissions throughout the state, and negotiated conference reports were adopted. A joint resolution (SB 690) adjourned the session until noon on August 17. Additional matters that might be considered are adoption of conference reports and bills relating to elections laws.
State Court System offers speedier service to speeders
As part of its upgrade in online services, the NC Court System has begun a pilot program in Buncombe County to allow qualified residents to process requests for reductions of speeding offenses online. It’s a 24/7 convenience to motorists who receive a speeding ticket and meet the criteria, which includes having a valid driver’s license and being 18 years old or older.
The potential reduction could apply only to arraigned or charged speeds between 10 and 19 miles per hour over the posted limit, and must not exceed a speed of 80 miles.
“This resource should increase the timely resolution of traffic matters and provide a model for new online services to come,” according to Buncombe County District Attorney Todd Williams (as quoted in the Administrative Office of the Courts’ press release). Buncombe County’s pilot program will be followed in late August by four more counties, and will go statewide by late fall.
The court system currently offers online requests for compliance and dismissal in traffic citations, as well as online payment options. To review or use the services, see onlineservices.NCcourts.org.
New scoreboard tracks legislative news
A wealth of perfunctory and esoteric information on legislative sessions is now available on a website called LegiScan (www.legiscan.com/NC), an “impartial and nonpartisan legislative tracking and reporting service.” Tracking all 50 states individually, the site offers updates on active bills, tracks the most viewed or monitored bills (NC leaders in both categories were “Legalize Medical Marijuana”), provides access to session-specific information, and cites all active bills.
Two interesting sets of statistics indicate which legislators were top bill sponsors for the session. In the House, local Rep. Susan Fisher (D-Buncombe County) comes in fifth so far this year with 206; Rep. Mary (Pricey) Harrison (D-Guilford) tops the list with 322 bills. In the Senate, Ronald Rabin (R-Harnett/Johnston/Lee) leads with 145 bills introduced.
Nelda Holder is the author of The Thirteenth Juror – Ferguson: A Personal Look at the Grand Jury Transcripts. Read Holder’s blog, www.politicallypurplenc.com