Updated: S181 passed the Senate Thursday morning in a 32-16 final vote.
After clearing the Senate Redistricting Committee Tuesday on a voice vote, S181, which would split Wake County into two super-districts and place County Commissioners’ elections into the same districts as the school board, passed the Senate on an initial 31-16 vote.
The Senate is expected to take a final vote on the bill tomorrow.
Wake County Sen. Josh Stein and Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue urged the 45 other members of the Senate who do not represent Wake County to vote against the bill. Stein submitted an amendment that would have offered Wake County voters a referendum on redistricting for the county commissioners’ seats. It was quickly tabled by Senate leadership.
“This bill will disenfranchise the people of Wake County,” Stein said. “It insults the 1 million voters whose opinions are being ignored because you deny them an opportunity to weigh in with a referendum. It will result in worse, more divisive, more narrow-minded governance over time that is not in the best interest of our county.”
Blue said the bill “does evil to Wake County and to North Carolina.”
“It chips away at this fundamental idea of what representative democracy is,” Blue said. “It is the choice of the people in whatever the political unit is, in this case, the people of Wake County.”
Sen. Tom Apodaca spoke in favor of the bill sponsored by Wake County Sen. Chad Barefoot.
“What we’re really talking about here is rural versus city, and as we grow, we see what the cities do, they take over everything,” Apodaca said. “We’re talking about electing district representatives that serve that district. To me, there is no truer form of government.”
Meanwhile, the House voted on an amendment to the state’s fracking rules (which go into effect next week) that will exempt the state from requiring regulations on air emissions during drilling operations.
As part of a larger package of changes to environmental laws, the House passed the measure in a 76-40 vote. The House Environment committee accepted the amendment from Rep. Mike Hager Tuesday, and it passed the House Rules Committee Wednesday morning.
Hager said the amendment—which removes a requirement for the Environmental Management Commission (EMC) to make rules on toxic air emissions from fracking—will save time by allowing drillers to follow rules for air quality which already exist, and which the EMC already has discretion to enforce.
Environmentalists say the amendment goes back on a promise to have the most stringent rules regulating fracking in effect in North Carolina, when it was legalized in the state in 2012, before any drilling occurs.
“The Legislature got it right the first time,” said Dustin Chicurel-Bayard, the communications director for the North Carolina Sierra Club.
“It’s surprising that exactly one week before fracking permits can be applied for in North Carolina for the first time ever, the Legislature would roll back requirements to protect air quality and the public health.”