As a special Senate committee on Tuesday began hammering out details for confirming Gov. Roy Cooper’s Cabinet nominees, the back-and-forth between the governor and the General Assembly over the legality of the confirmation requirement continued.
The process will mirror that used by the U.S. Senate, with an added step: North Carolina Cabinet-level nominees will have to return to the original nominating committee before being sent to the full Senate for a confirmation vote. While senators unveiled the schedule for confirmation hearings, Cooper said the exercise was unnecessary, claiming the law which established the confirmation requirement violated the state constitution.
Sen. Bill Rabon, R-Brunswick, co-chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Nominations, appeared to anticipate Cooper’s objections. “The North Carolina Constitution clearly provides for the Senate to undertake this duty,” Rabon said during the meeting.
Rabon continued: “Our goals are to have a transparent, fair process so the governor’s nominees are thoroughly considered. We will focus primarily if the candidate is capable and qualified, ensuring that the candidate has no conflict of interest, and ensuring that the candidate will follow the law.”
Once a nominee passes the initial step, the nomination then will go to the Senate policy committee “best suited” to the nominee’s job, Rabon said. For example, he said the nominee for secretary of transportation will go to the Senate Transportation Committee and the secretary of Health and Human Services would go to the Senate Health Care Committee.
The policy committee would invite the nominee to give testimony at a meeting, Rabon said, and then decide whether to refer the nominee for confirmation. Next, the Nominations Committee would consider the policy committee’s conclusion before making its recommendation to the full Senate
Ideally, the process would be completed over the next six weeks, Rabon said.
Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue, D-Wake, said after the meeting that more clarification on the rules for the nominees is needed. Blue also noted that the confirmation law, passed during a special session in December 2016, is being challenged in the courts. “I don’t know what the ramifications of those suits might be,” Blue said.
Blue also said the process was a bit lengthy. “That’s a long time, quite frankly,” Blue said of the six-week process. “The governor deserves to have his Cabinet folk in place as soon as possible.”
Cooper said the court case made this entire exercise by the Senate a waste of time.
“The governor encourages his Cabinet secretaries to meet informally with legislators and to work with them at every turn,” Cooper spokesman Ford Porter said in a statement after the meeting. “However, we believe that the confirmation law is clearly unconstitutional and we urge the legislature to let the court decide the case first.”
Rabon said he hoped the schedule could be condensed.
The committee’s other co-chairman, Sen. Tommy Tucker, R-Union, told committee members that tentative schedule for committees taking up Cooper’s nominees:
- Larry Hall, secretary of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, Feb. 8, in the Commerce Committee.
- Machelle Sanders, secretary of the Department of Administration, Feb. 14, in the State and Local Government Committee.
- Susi Hamilton, secretary of the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, Feb. 16, in the Agriculture, Environment, and Natural Resources Committee.
- Erik Hooks, secretary of the Department of Public Safety, Feb. 21, in the Judiciary Committee.
- Tony Copeland, secretary of the Department of Commerce, Feb. 23, in the Commerce Committee.
- Jim Trogdon, secretary of the Department of Transportation, March 1, in the Transportation Committee.
- Michael Regan, secretary of the Department of Environmental Quality, March 8, in the Agriculture, Environment, and Natural Resources Committee.
- Dr. Mandy Cohen, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, March 16, in the Health Care Committee.
Both Rabon and Tucker later defended the process in a joint statement.
“As long as Gov. Cooper’s Cabinet nominees have nothing to hide and are free of conflicts of interest, willing to follow the law and qualified, he should advise them they have nothing to worry about and encourage them to comply with the law,” they said.
Meanwhile, lawmakers filed a handful of bills on Tuesday. They included:
- A bill allowing conditional restoration of a driver’s license for those convicted of driving while intoxicated after completing a drug treatment program (Senate Bill 21), filed by Sen. Jim Davis, R-Macon.
- A bill prohibiting the DOT from denying motorcycle access to the state’s roads (House Bill 28), sponsored by Rep. John Torbett, R-Gaston.
- A bill requiring clerks of court to keep a record of people asking to be excused from jury duty because they are not qualified to serve as a juror (House Bill 29), introduced by Rep. George Cleveland, R-Onslow.
- A bill authorizing the Division of Motor Vehicles to establish a specialized license plate for colorectal cancer, with some of the proceeds going to prevention and early detection of the cancer (House Bill 30), introduced by Rep. William Brawley, R-Mecklenburg.