A bill that requires legislative leaders to sign off on lawsuit settlements involving the North Carolina General Assembly is on its way to Gov. Roy Cooper.
Senate Bill 360 targets collusive settlements, also known as settle-and-sue cases, that challenge the state's laws or constitution. The legislation was filed in response to a legal settlement that changed election the rules ahead of the November election.
According to law, when the state is named in a lawsuit, the governor represents the executive branch, and the General Assembly leadership represents the legislative branch.
“No public servant is immune to the need for checks and balances,” House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, said in a statement. “When the Speaker of the House and President Pro Tempore of the Senate are named as parties to a lawsuit, they must be involved in any settlement agreements. Our current attorney general has repeatedly excluded the General Assembly in settlement agreements, often choosing politics over his duty to defend our state constitution.”
The House approved the measure, 58-47, on Wednesday. It was approved by the Senate, 28-21, in April.
Backers of the bill said North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein and the state election board's September 2020 settlement with the North Carolina Alliance for Retired Americans and seven voters was a collusive settlement.
The plaintiffs sued the state for changes in the voting process to protect older voters from the spread of COVID-19.
Republicans said the agreement was made in secret, without the knowledge of two of the defendants, Senate Leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, and Moore. They also argued the settlement was unconstitutional since it changed state law after previous failures to change similar rules. Republicans, including former President Donald Trump's campaign, challenged the settlement up to the U.S. Supreme Court.
State Board of Elections Executive Director Karen Brinson Bell and Democratic lawmakers argued the settlement changed election rules, not laws. Democrats also called the bill a legislative overreach since it aims to take the election board's decision-making power away.
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