Senate Bill 10: reason to worry

COMMENTARY BY: GRACE TATTER

Good news, y’all.

You might be concerned about Senate Bill 10, which purges many of North Carolina’s regulatory agencies. You might be especially concerned because both houses of the Republican-controlled General Assembly are veto-proof.

Starting from scratch and losing all that institutional knowledge doesn’t seem terribly efficient — especially since it’s not necessarily being replaced.  For example, if Senate Bill 10 passes the House (which it is poised to do), the state will no longer require a member of the Environmental Management Commission to be a “registered engineer with specialized training and experience in water supply or water and pollution.” Instead, the board will be required to have a member employed by or recently retired from an industrial manufacturing facility.*  Experts on marine ecology on the Coastal Resources Commission will be replaced by “property owners.”

Sure, the interests of  “property owners” and industry sometimes misalign with the interests of the people of North Carolina (see: slavery).

But don’t worry!

The North Carolina GOP, which currently has a majority in both houses of the General Assembly, addresses the environment in their platform. The platform states:  “We are stewards of our God-given natural heritage. We have a duty to protect the earth’s resources.”

Campus BluePrint could not find the contract that arranged this transfer of land from God to the  North Carolina Republican party. Thus, we are unsure exactly what part of our state the GOP is committed to protecting.

It doesn’t look good for the coastal regions, since GOP-endorsed policies have largely been lambasted in the national press for harming the region. But we’re optimistic about the Southern Side of Heaven. Surely Chapel Hill isn’t called Chapel Hill for nothing. (This plank must be even more confusing for constituents who don’t believe in the GOP’s God.)

Despite this gray area in environmental protection, the GOP has our back when it comes to utilities — the regulatory committee of which was also purged.

The GOP’s platform states: “We support energy security and energy independence.” Slightly worrisome is that the platform does not state from whom they support energy independence.

Following a recent merger, Duke Energy controls almost 100 percent of the energy in the state. And Gov. McCrory worked for Duke for nearly three decades, and will be appointing the the replacements for all of these committees. That plank is presumably not about independence from Duke Energy.

So, maybe you’re still worried.

If you feel like your rights are being infringed, you can always take it to the courts. But Senate Bill 10 fires about 12 of 15 special superior court judges.

Superior court judges are required to rotate throughout North Carolina. When they’re on rotation, special superior court judges come in and take their place. These “special” judges also tackle particularly complex cases.

The three remaining special superior court judges  can’t possibly absorb of the caseloads. And all of them specialize in business court, so this isn’t really their shtick anyway.

Well, at least while your court case is sitting around, the state is saving money, right?

Maybe not. First of all,  it’s almost certainly not constitutional to remove judges in the middle of their term. That undermines the independence of the judicial branch. If judges have to start worrying that if they rule against a law passed by the General Assembly, the GA will eliminate their jobs, our courts aren’t going to function as they should.

That means that any costs cut by eliminating these posts will probably be made up for, when someone (besides you, of course) takes Senate Bill 10 to courts. Those judges’ have almost five years left in their term, and their salaries will probably end up being paid whether they’re working (which they would like to be doing) or not. Yes, we live in a state with a veto-proof majority, but we haven’t completely thrown checks-and-balances out the window.

Second of all, the state already has to call in retired judges to oversee cases the rest of the superior court judges can’t. Those judges are paid $400 a day, and now we’ll need more of them. Plus, we’ll be housing people as they wait longer for trial.

If you’re still anxious, keep in mind that it’s not just the GOP who packs courts and commissions. FDR tried really hard to pass a court-packing scheme. And part of this bill might be Republican retaliation for a stunt Gov. Bev Purdue pulled, when she reneged on a promise to appoint judges based on the opinion of commissioner, and just picked her two closest attorneys — one whom who has no courtroom experience. Politicians all have tricks up their sleeves. This might all be undone after the next election, with new governor  appointees, in 2016.

Well, make that 2020, since an incumbent North Carolina governor has never lost an election.

And here’s the good news: by then, the passing of Senate Bill 10 will be but a distant memory!

And so might the Outer Banks.

*Granted, the bill does stipulate this industrial employee be an “expert in industrial pollution control.” But it doesn’t allow that North Carolina’s large industries are some of the most pollutant. If our heads of industry are experts in pollution control, they’re holding out on us.  Our scientists, who work at some of the best research universities in the world, seem more qualified on this front.

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