Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Lawmakers favor N.C. board appointment changes

General Assembly Republicans set up another likely veto showdown with Gov. Roy Cooper — and a possible court fight — on Wednesday by passing a bill that reworks appointment powers for a number of state boards.

A between-chambers compromise version of Senate Bill 512 cleared the House 72-47 and was later adopted by the Senate.

The most significant of the many changes is to the State Board of Transportation, as it would immediately sack every current member of the board. Legislators would appoint 14 replacements and the governor six.

Existing law allows the governor to appoint 14 members and legislators six.

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger indicated earlier this summer that legislators had lost confidence in the existing board, in part because the Department of Transportation had overspent its fiscal 2018-19 spending plan by $742 million.

The bill also makes wholesale changes to the governing board of UNC Health, claiming for legislators the right to appoint eight members and reducing the number of in-house representatives from the UNC System and UNC Chapel Hill.

Instead of eight ex-officio seats, as now, they’ll get five, to include the system president, the campus chancellor, the CEO of UNC Health and two people from the “executive staff” of UNC Health. One of those two must be a UNC School of Medicine faculty member.

The system president will get to appoint 12 at-large members, subject to confirmation by the Board of Governors.

A new wrinkle in the conference report is that the bill also changes the apportionment of seats on the trustee boards of two of the UNC System’s 15 universities, UNC Chapel Hill and N.C. State University.

Up to now, trustee boards on all campuses have had 13 members — eight appointed by the Board of Governors and four by legislators, plus the student government member serving ex officio.

S512 would change that for the two flagship campuses by adding two seats to their trustee boards, with the new seats subject to legislative appointment.

Beyond those, the bill would change the composition of:

  • Economic Investment Committee (adding two legislators to the board); the Enviromental Management Commission (giving the agriculture commissioner authority to appoint two members);
  • The state Medical Board (four members from the N.C. Medical Society, four appointed by legislators and five by the governor);
  • The Coastal Resources Commission (subtracting three gubernatorial appointments in favor of one by the insurance commissioner and two by legislators);
  • The Wildlife Resources Commission (legislators would appoint 10 members, two more than before);
    • The N.C. Railroad Board (one of the governor’s current seven appointments would go instead to the state treasurer); and
  • The Utilities Commission (a seven-member board would become a five-member board, with three members appointed by the governor and two by legislators)

The litigation possibility comes because the state Supreme Court has said the a majority of legislative appointments on boards that have final authority to execute the laws can violate the separation of powers. All of the state’s living ex-governors have criticized the General Assembly’s move to rework appointments.

But House Rules Committee Chairman Destin Hall, R-Caldwell, said the assembly “generally had the most authority in the state” and that sponsors believe the changes are constitutional.

House Minority Leader Robert Reives, D-Chatham, countered that “consolidating power in this body is a bad, bad, bad idea.”

Related Articles