Bill with class fix, items aimed at Cooper to become law

Gov. Roy Cooper (AP)

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP/WNCN) — North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper says he’ll neither veto nor sign a bill fixing an upcoming public school class-size dilemma but also changing the state elections board and a natural gas pipeline agreement.

According to rules in the state constitution, the bill will take effect in mid-March based on the governor’s decision. Cooper spoke to reporters on Wednesday regarding the bill approved by the Republican-controlled General Assembly the day before.

The Democratic governor says lawmakers heard the voices of parents and phased in lower student-teacher ratios in early grades.

“They are hurting our state with this kind of partisan play, particularly when you’re talking about kids and schools and jobs,” Cooper said.

But he says their actions on other matters in the bill were purely political and threaten whether utilities developing the Atlantic Coast Pipeline will pay the state $58 million.

“This was good for everybody, and now the General Assembly has put it in jeopardy,” said Cooper.

Following the governor’s announcement, Senate leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) said the governor has a “conflict of interest” with regard to the pipeline fund. Under the class-size bill, the legislature would steer money from the fund to schools in the counties impacted by the pipeline.

“It’s clear he got his hand his caught in the cookie jar and he is doing everything he can to twist and turn,” said Berger.

Earlier in the day, Donald Bryson, president of the conservative Civitas Institute, filed an ethics complaint against the governor.

“How can the governor take funds that were not allocated by the General Assembly and then choose to do with them what he wishes?” he asked. The NC Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement currently has no appointed members, as Cooper and the Republican legislature battle in court over how the board should be comprised.

Bryson criticized the process by which the fund came into existence. When the governor’s office announced the fund, it wasn’t immediately clear precisely how it would be administered. The governor pledged to issue an executive order spelling that out. Cooper said Wednesday the fund was not a condition to the state issuing a key water permit for the pipeline project.

“The permitting process is independent,” Cooper said.

CBS North Carolina reached out to Dominion Energy, which is the lead company overseeing the pipeline project, to ask if the new law will impact whether the companies move forward with the fund. Aaron Ruby, a spokesman for the company, didn’t address that directly, but said in an email, “As part of the approval process, we worked with all three states to develop mitigation measures for these impacts. In North Carolina, a memorandum of understanding was developed as part of this mitigation process. The State determines how to administer those mitigation funds.”

In speaking about the state Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement, Sen. Berger criticized the governor’s office for directing staff members not to take action on certain issues while litigation over the board’s makeup plays out in court.

In emails obtained by CBS North Carolina, William McKinney, an attorney for Cooper wrote, “… we cannot agree that there is a New State Board capable of issuing guidance at this time.”

In response, Josh Lawson, general counsel for the NC Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement, wrote he’s “deeply concerned.”

He wrote, “Logistical guidance has never been considered ‘policymaking’ or subject to new day-to-day control that would mark a departure from the historic independence of elections civil staff.”

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