The North Carolina General Assembly reconvened on Tuesday morning to debate a relief package for victims of Hurricane Matthew and western North Carolina wildfires. At the same time, however, questions persisted that Republicans might try to pack the state Supreme Court they lost control of in November or take certain powers and responsibilities away from either Governor-elect Roy Cooper or Attorney General-elect Josh Stein, both Democrats.
After the House recessed, Speaker Tim Moore appeared to shoot down the much-maligned court-packing idea.
“I don’t believe we oughta do it,” Moore told reporters. “I’ve made that clear from day one. That’s not something we’re looking at, expanding the Supreme Court…I’ve made it clear that that’s not something we’re looking at doing right now. If for some reason there’s a groundswell to look at it – but I don’t see that happening.”
The bill, which is called HB 2 (go figure), allocates $200,928,370 in relief funding, with a third of that ($66.2 million) going to the State Emergency Response and Disaster Relief Fund. It’s also worth noting that the state’s rainy day fund currently totals $1.6 billion, which raises the question: if the relief package costs only $200 million, and if enough money is currently in the reserves to pay for it, why are we even having a special session?
The answer seems pretty obvious. At the General Assembly on Tuesday, rumors swirled about the General Assembly taking agencies and responsibilities away from Cooper and/or Stein, including supervision of the North Carolina Division of Medical Assistance (which supervises Medicaid), the Department of Environmental Quality, and the state Board of Elections. One or more of these things (or others) could feasibly be moved to other Council of State positions, including the office of Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest, a Republican, or even the General Assembly itself.
There’s a precedent for all of this, too: the General Assembly took the State Bureau of Investigation away from Cooper’s office and gave it to the DPS, controlled by McCrory, back in 2014.
But as of now, these are all rumors. The only solid thing we currently have is this disaster relief bill, which you can read in its entirety below, and which the House Appropriations Committee will discuss at 2 p.m. You can listen to that here.
UPDATE: Looks like the Appropriations committee meeting will have a visitor.