On Thursday morning, the Senate made two confirmations and passed SB 790, “State Bar Review Committee Recommendations.”

The Senate voted unanimously, 45-0, (with five excused absences) to confirm James C. Gillen to the Industrial Commission and Joey R. Hopkins as Secretary of the Department of Transportation (DOT).

“Mr. Gillen has been serving in this position. He was appointed by Governor Cooper. He has been reappointed by Governor Cooper, has gone before the committee,” said Sen. Bill Rabon, R-Brunswick. I think everyone appreciates the job he has done. We liked the job that he had been doing and hope that he will continue to do the same. I would certainly appreciate your support in confirming Mr. Gillen.”

The North Carolina Industrial Commission administers the North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Act, acting as a court in deciding workers’ compensation disputes. The full commission is made up of six judges, or commissioners, serving six year terms.

There are a larger number of deputy commissioners, who also serve as a judge, feeding cases into the full commission similar to appeal hierarchies among the court system. Most disputes in workers’ compensation cases are heard initially by a deputy commissioner, including disputes over whether a case is subject to the Industrial Commission’s jurisdiction, whether a particular injury is compensable, and whether an employee is due wage replacement benefits, and if so in what amount. There are no juries in workers’ compensation hearings. Appeals from decisions of a deputy commissioner are to a panel of three full commissioners.

Appeals from the full commission are to the North Carolina Court of Appeals and then to the North Carolina Supreme Court.

According to SJR 910, Mr. Gillen’s term as a commissioner will begin on July 1, 2024, and end on June 30, 2030. 

The Senate also unanimously passed SR 768, confirming Joey R. Hopkins as Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT), and amending the legislation to reflect Hopkins’ confirmation. 

 “This amendment is what we do every time that we change from the nomination to the confirmation; originally, this was a nomination, and now it becomes a confirmation,” said Rabon. “Ladies and gentlemen, I ask that you support the nomination or confirmation of Joey Hopkins. He’s sitting in that position now. He’s doing a good job. We would just like to see him continue. Thank you so much.”

Hopkins, who’s been acting secretary for some time, is a veteran of the NCDOT, having started as a temp while in college and remaining for his entire 30+ year career. In a December 2023 interview Hopkins said he never imagined he’d one day lead the organization.

“I look back on my career and I started when I was still in college as a temporary,” Hopkins told WUNC. “At the time, I was just trying to pay the bills and get a job that helped do that. It’s something I liked doing and I loved it so much. This has become my family. I’ve had career goals over the years. Some of those I have met, some others I have not. But even in the recent past I never dreamed I would be Secretary of Transportation. I’m proud to be a leader of this organization and be part of this team.”

The Senate also voted 43-2 to pass SB 790, State Bar Review Committee Recommendations.

“In the last session or last year rather, we had a provision that asked a committee to look at the grievance process and to improve the effectiveness, fitness, or fairness and process of the disciplinary and grievance review procedures with the State Bar,” said Sen. Michael V. Lee, R-New Hanover. “They had over five meetings. What this bill does is essentially embody the recommendations that they made; it really hits on three areas. One is due process for the person who a complaint has been levied against. The other is to address those who have used the process. They’ve got a section called vexatious complaints that they looked at a lot of other states. And coming up with that, and then to clarify standing of who can make a complaint.”

SB 790 is sponsored by Sens. Benton Sawrey, R-Johnston, and Michael Lee, R-New Hanover. 

Both items now head to the House.