Judge says N.C. paycheck law targeted NCAE

Lawmakers stopped dues from being taken out of paychecks

lbonner@newsobserver.comJanuary 3, 2013 

The N.C. Association of Educators won its legal challenge of a state law prohibiting teachers from having association membership dues automatically deducted from their paychecks.

Wake County Superior Court Judge Paul G. Gessner agreed with the NCAE that the law passed by the Republican legislature retaliated against NCAE, a professional group once strongly aligned with Democrats. Gessner ordered that the law could not be enforced.

“We are extremely pleased with the court’s decision in this important case, especially the court’s recognition that our members have a constitutional right to express their views on issues important to the education community, ” NCAE President Rodney Ellis said in a statement. “Standing up for those views is the very reason NCAE initiated the lawsuit.”

NCAE Executive Director Scott Anderson said the group is continuing its efforts to encourage members to pay their dues through bank drafts.

“We can’t get a sense of what they’re going to do next,” Anderson said of the legislature. “That’s why we’re focused on having as many of our folks on an alternate mechanism of payment other than relying on a state law.”

Republicans argued that the NCAE wasn’t being singled out because the law covered school employees whether they were Teamsters, members of the State Employees Association of North Carolina, NCAE or other groups.

Teachers aren’t the only government employees who choose to have membership dues automatically deducted from their paychecks. The practice is widespread throughout state government.

Rep. Paul Stam, a member of the House Republican leadership, said he learned about the ruling Thursday afternoon and did not yet know how the legislature will respond.

“I’m sure there will be some action,” the Apex Republican said. “I don’t know what it will be.”

The Attorney General’s office, which represented the state and fought for the law, is reviewing the ruling, spokeswoman Noelle Talley said.

The law was the focus of outrage because the House passed it after 1 a.m. in a special session last January without any notice that it would come up for a vote.

Gov. Bev Perdue, a Democrat, had called the legislature to a special session to consider her veto of a bill dealing with the Racial Justice Act. House Republicans did not have enough votes to override that veto, but scheduled their own special session immediately after the governor’s to consider other vetoed legislation.

Critics said the move was unconstitutional, and NCAE challenged in its lawsuit the House practice of holding action on gubernatorial vetoes, sometimes for months, until Republicans had enough votes to override them.

Gessner did not address the question of how long legislators could wait before taking override votes.

To show that the NCAE was being targeted, association leaders pointed to comments from House Speaker Thom Tillis during a closed-door Republican House caucus meeting in June 2011, after the NCAE sent mailers to the districts of five House Democrats who had voted for the GOP budget. The dues bill would come up in committee, Tillis said, and “We just want to give them a little taste of what’s to come.”

Republicans mistakenly left on the meeting room microphones, and reporters recorded their comments.

At a GOP state convention, Tillis bragged about cutting off the payroll deduction.

Bonner: 919-829-4821

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