News: Quick Takes

Collusive settlements bill now moving in the N.C. House

Karen Brinson Bell, executive director of the N.C. State Board of Elections, testifies during a legislative hearing. (Image from ncleg.gov)
Karen Brinson Bell, executive director of the N.C. State Board of Elections, testifies during a legislative hearing. (Image from ncleg.gov)

The N.C. Senate has already passed its own version of a bill to outlaw collusive settlements. Now, a similar bill is on the move in the N.C. House after the Judiciary Committee gave approval Wednesday, May 5.

House Bill 606 would require the state attorney general’s office to get sign-off from the legislature before reaching a settlement on a lawsuit in which the General Assembly is a party.

H.B. 606 is similar to a measure — Senate Bill 360that passed the Senate on April 27. The only difference is the House version requires that settlement agreements be paid from funds available in the current fiscal year.

“As members of the legislature branch, we have a duty to end this collusive practice and protect the laws and legislation that we pass,” said the bill sponsor, Rep. Allen McNeill, R-Moore.

The bill is meant to resolve the type of situation that evolved in 2020 with actions taken by N.C. State Board of Elections Director Karen Brinson Bell. Republicans claim that Brinson Bell, a registered Democrat, changed election law after voting began last year and worked with Attorney General Josh Stein, also a Democrat, to reach a secret settlement in a lawsuit brought against the state by Democrat attorney Marc Elias.

Brinson Bell wrote a letter, dated April 27, to Republican leaders in the Senate denying she participated in a collusive settlement.

“I work for the State Board, and I will continue to follow the Board’s guidance in performing my duties as state elections director,” Brinson Bell wrote. “I have always followed, and will continue to follow, state and federal law. Last year, a record 5.5 million-plus voters successfully cast their ballots during a pandemic. The State and county boards of elections are incredibly proud of the work we did to achieve such an historic election despite the difficult circumstances, and we continue to remain focused on our important work as the state’s elections officials.”