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Tillis & Berger: Agents of the State

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House Speaker Thom Tillis (left) and Senate President Phil Berger (right) House Speaker Thom Tillis (left) and Senate President Phil Berger (right)
RALEIGH, N.C. -

As the legislative sessions drew to a close late Thursday night, the state House adopted new language to a bill intent on improving "transparency in the cost of health care provided by hospitals and ambulatory surgical facilities."

But the new language had little to do with health care costs.

Rather, the state House modified Senate Bill 473 to allow the Speaker of the House and the Senate Pro Tempore to act as "agents of the state."

Trimming much of the meat that increased the transparency of health care costs, the bill grants the two legislative leaders the power to "jointly have standing to intervene on behalf of the General Assembly as a party in any judicial proceeding challenging a North Carolina statute or provision of the North Carolina Constitution."

The change allows the legislative officers to step in on judicial matters should their position on state law contrast that of the Attorney General.

It is the role of the Attorney General to defend state law should the constitutionality of the law be challenged.

Attorney General Roy Cooper said his office was not consulted regarding the legislation. He added that giving the Pro Tem and the Speaker equal standing with the Attorney General could prove to be problematic.

"We were not consulted on this provision, but we're concerned that this causes the potential for the state to have inconsistent legal positions and confusion in litigation," said Noelle Talley, the public information officer for Cooper's office.

Ultimately, though, it is up to the court to permit the lawmakers to intervene as dictated by Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

A Democrat, Cooper has been critical of some of the legislation passed since the GOP took control of the General Assembly. Most recently, Cooper urged Gov. Pat McCrory to veto election reform legislation (H.B. 589), calling it "regressive, ... unnecessary, expensive and burdensome."

"I write to state my strong opposition to the election reforms contained in House Bill 589 and ask that you veto this regressive legislation," Cooper wrote in a letter to McCrory on Friday. "For years, North Carolina has taken steps that encourage people to vote while maintaining the integrity of the system."

Cooper went on to call voter ID requirements written into the bill "unnecessary, expensive and burdensome."

Previously, a failed portion of the state budget called for operations of the State Bureau of Investigation to be transferred away from Attorney General's Department of Justice to the executive branch. The Senate's budget transferred about half of the SBI's 423 positions to the Department of Public Safety under Secretary Kieran Shanahan, a McCrory appointee.

The SBI assists local law enforcement on specialized crime and pursues public corruption investigations.

Cooper spoke out against the move, arguing the move would inhibit the agency's independence from the executive branch. McCrory also opposed the move and questioned the necessity.

After passing the House early Friday morning, S.B. 473 passed the Senate and now awaits McCrory's signature.

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