Under the Dome

Speaker says new rules will open process

Staff WritersMarch 1, 2007 

House Speaker Joe Hackney on Wednesday announced new rules for the operation of the House that he said would lead to a more open democratic process for considering legislation.

But some lawmakers say he needs to do more.

The changes include not allowing so-called "special provisions" in the budget that have nothing to do with the spending plan, a ban on "floaters" -- members who the speaker could assign to any committee to stack a vote, and a ban on hearing a bill the same day it is reported out of a committee.

The rule changes come after Hackney's predecessor, Jim Black, a Mecklenburg County Democrat, pleaded guilty earlier this month to state bribery and obstruction of justice charges and a federal charge of corruptly accepting things of value. The charges pertain to his aiding chiropractors with favorable legislation while they were supplying him with $29,000 in cash and a check that he pocketed.

Hackney did not mention Black's troubles. He said his experiences as a veteran lawmaker helped fuel his decision.

"I've been here a long time," said Hackney, an Orange County Democrat. "I have accumulated a lot of opinions about how things ought to work and I guess, more so than anything else, this is the way I think things ought to work."

House Minority Leader Paul Stam, an Apex Republican, said Hackney consulted with him about the changes. Stam said he supports them but that Hackney needs to do more to guarantee that power is not concentrated in the hands of a few. His suggestions include preventing committees from slapping long, detailed titles on bills, because the titles limit the breadth of amendments that can be introduced.

Meanwhile, Senate leader Marc Basnight, a Manteo Democrat, has no interest in banning special provisions in the Senate budget.

"Does that prevent somebody from breaking the law?" he asked. "I've had no problem with special provisions on my side."

Basnight said he supports special provisions because they win passage for important laws. Legislation setting up Smart Start, the early childhood health and education program, and the Clean Water Management Trust were special provisions, he said.

The rules changes have to be approved by a majority of the House. Stam said he will try to amend the bill on the House floor.

Basnight interview

Basnight said Wednesday that he was hurt by Black's guilty pleas.

"I do not like what I've read and seen," he said during an interview with editors and reporters at The News & Observer.

But Basnight said he has not heard much about Black from constituents.

Basnight said a person cursed him and fellow Sen. David Hoyle over Black while the two were out one day but that his office has heard from only four people about Black.

The House is in good hands, Basnight said, with Hackney as speaker.

Ads target Shuler

A pro-business group out of Washington is dinging U.S. Rep. Heath Shuler about today's planned vote on labor organizing. The Coalition for a Democratic Workplace, made up of dozens of business groups, is running radio ads against the labor bill in Shuler's district in Western North Carolina.

Members of the coalition include the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce, the N.C. Chamber of Commerce and the N.C. Restaurant and Lodging Association.

The House plans to vote on legislation to allow labor organizers to go around employers by collecting "cards" from workers to set up a union. Supporters say the Employee Free Choice Act would protect workers from anti-union intimidation by companies.

Opponents say the measure would prohibit companies from holding secret-ballot votes on unions and allow for intimidation by union organizers.

Shuler, a Democrat, is a co-sponsor of the legislation.

Kane can be reached at 829-4861 or dkane@newsobserver.com.

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