GOP senator urges governor to obey unemployment law

dranii@newsobserver.comOctober 2, 2013 

A high-ranking Republican state senator said Wednesday that Gov. Pat McCrory’s administration is flouting the law.

Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, complained that McCrory hasn’t named an independent Unemployment Review Board to review decisions on unemployment benefits made by the state Division of Employment Security.

Rucho’s remarks came during a legislative committee meeting where lawmakers were questioning Dale Folwell, the agency’s head.

A 2011 law calls for the governor to appoint a three-person board to review appeals of agency decisions on unemployment benefits – regardless of whether that decision approves or denies benefits. The review board’s decisions would be subject to further review in the courts.

Folwell, a former Republican legislator, told the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Unemployment Insurance that he was “in constant dialogue” with the governor’s office regarding the board and added that he would be willing to discuss the issue “offline.”

But Rucho rejected that offer, saying the situation was “a very important issue” for the committee. He then proceeded to lecture Folwell.

“The General Assembly wouldn’t have taken action if we didn’t think it was important,” Rucho said. “You are expected to follow the law. The governor is expected to follow the law. We’ll have to take some action” to address the issue.

Rep. Julia Howard, R-Mocksville, who chairs the committee along with Rucho, said in an interview afterward that she agrees with her colleague.

“It’s the law,” she said. “Unless you repeal the law, we should be compliant.”

It’s the second time in recent months that legislators from the governor’s own party have called on him to follow state law. Last month, McCrory said he would not implement a new law that requires drug tests for some welfare recipients until lawmakers found a way to pay for it. Senate leader Phil Berger immediately responded by saying the governor was expected to “perform his constitutional duty to enforce the law.”

This time around, McCrory isn’t planning to defy the legislature.

Ryan Tronovitch, a McCrory spokesman, said in an email message that the governor’s office is reviewing candidates for the board.

Although the law originally called for the review board to be appointed by the governor by Nov. 15, 2011, there was a technical problem with the bill that delayed its implementation – the salaries of the appointees weren’t included in the law.

Even after that oversight was rectified in 2012, then-Gov. Bev Perdue didn’t appoint a panel.

Howard said that Perdue, a Democrat who didn’t run for re-election, chose to leave the appointments “out of respect” for her successor – whoever that turned out to be.

A technical corrections bill that was passed this year set a new deadline for appointing the review board, Sept. 1 of this year.

Rucho said in an interview that the law that created the independent review board was designed to end the current system, where the agency head reviews the appeals.

“How do you have your boss differ from what your employees are doing?” Rucho asked. “You lose your independence.”

The independent review board “is like a safety valve,” he said. “It allows the person who is unhappy with the decision – before they go through a very expensive legal battle in court – an opportunity to have a fair and independent hearing.”

Ranii: 919-829-4877

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