This is the tale of two bills.
The first one requested by the Greensboro City Council could be titled, “How not to get a bill passed by the state legislature,” and the second, requested by Greensboro Coliseum Director Matt Brown, “How to get a bill passed.”
Instead of paying a lobbyist $5,000 a month, the next time the City Council wants to get a bill through the legislature, somebody should call Brown and he can explain how to get it done.
The councilmembers have repeatedly said that they want a revision made to the law creating the Police Community Review Board, but the way Greensboro’s Legal Department, which handles relations with the legislature, and the $5,000-a-month lobbyist went about doing it all but guaranteed failure.
The Greensboro City Council says that it wants the Police Citizens Review Board to be appointed by the City Council rather than appointed by the chair of the Human Relations Commission, and it would also like for the board to be able to release more information about the reason for the determination that the board made. Both of these changes require a bill to be passed by the state legislature amending the current statute.
Both the state House and Senate have large, veto-proof Republican majorities, which means the vast majority of the bills that pass the legislature are ones introduced by Republicans.
So who did Greensboro enlist to lead the effort to get this bill passed? In the state House it was Democratic District 57 Rep. Pricey Harrison and in the state Senate it was Democratic District 28 Sen. Gladys Robinson.
The result of that move is that, both in the Senate and the House, the bill has been referred to the Rules Committee.
For Greensboro city councilmembers and others who aren’t familiar with how the legislature works, a referral to the Rules Committee is how the legislature kills bills. Most bills sent to the Rules Committees never see the light of day again. In office parlance it is equivalent to putting something in the round file.
But this should be no surprise. Of the last 10 bills that Robinson has sponsored, eight have gone directly to rules. One was to honor the NC A&T State University football team and that passed unanimously, and one was to study the fair treatment of college athletes and that is in a conference committee.
It’s the way the state legislature works. For over 100 years to get anything done in Raleigh you had to be a Democrat because the Democrats had the majority. In 2011, the Republicans took control of the state House and state Senate. So for the last seven years if you wanted to get a bill through the legislature the way to do it was to get a Republican to introduce it.
Greensboro, with its eight Democratic councilmembers and one member too liberal to be a Democrat may not have wanted to have anything to do with a bunch of Republicans down in Raleigh, and evidently the bill going to rules got Mayor Nancy Vaughan’s attention and she reportedly went to Raleigh on Wednesday, June 13, to see if the bill could be resuscitated.
Greensboro actually has an opportunity in Raleigh to get more from the state government than ever because Greensboro has more clout than it has had in the past. But Greensboro doesn’t get more because the City Council has a bad habit of passing meaningless resolutions against actions taken by the state, and if they don’t pass resolutions they make uncalled for comments about state legislators.
And it appears that the City Council isn’t attempting to take advantage of Greenboro’s increased influence because those in power are all Republicans.
President Pro Tem of the state Senate Phil Berger, the most powerful elected official in the state, currently represents a big chunk of northern Greensboro.
Former Greensboro City Councilmember and current state Sen. Trudy Wade is chair or co-chair of four committees. She is one of the most powerful women in the legislature. As of Tuesday, June 12, nobody from Greensboro had even talked to Wade about the bill, explaining why the bill is necessary or asking for her support. Wednesday Vaughan may have rectified that with a visit, but considering all the legislature is attempting to get done in the next week, it may be too little too late.
In the House, Rep. Jon Hardister is the majority whip, which is the number three leadership position. Rep. John Blust has been in the legislature for 20 years. Rep. John Faircloth as the former High Point police chief is looked to for advice on law enforcement matters. Faircloth started off his career in law enforcement as a Greensboro police officer, so he has a personal interest in the department.
Hardister and Faircloth have both signed on to the bill as sponsors, but it would have shown some political savvy to have Hardister or Faircloth introduce the bill rather than Harrison.
The bill as it was presented to the City Council made sense, as it was written it appeared to have some problems that are supposed to be fixed now, or will be fixed if the city can get the bill out of rules.
As it was, the City Council could have designated any committee or board or group it wanted to serve as the Police Community Review Board. Taking into consideration the politics of the present City Council, an issue that came up in Raleigh was that the City Council could designate the Beloved Community Center board led by Nelson Johnson as the Police Community Review Board for the City of Greensboro. It may sound outlandish, but the question asked was, why else would that door be left open.
The only police incidents that the Greensboro City Council itself has looked into during the past couple of years have been the ones brought to the City Council’s attention by Johnson and his supporters.
That has been fixed in the rewritten bill. The City Council will designate the Criminal Justice Advisory Committee and its subcommittee as the Police Community Review Board. Currently, the Police Community Review Board is appointed by the chairman of the Human Relations Commission and that was what the City Council wanted to change. The newly written law does a better job of establishing that fact.
Unless the city can pry its bill out of rules, the chair of the Human Relations Commission will continue to appoint the members of the Police Community Review Board.
Rewriting the bill and having Vaughan go down to lobby for it could work, but the question the City Council should be asking is why is the city in this position in the first place. This is a bill the City Council has been talking about since last fall. That was plenty of time to refine it, meet with Republican legislators and make certain the bill would sail through with unanimous support of the Guilford delegation.
As to how to get a bill passed. The short answer is, get Wade to sponsor the bill. The Greensboro Coliseum ran into a bizarre problem, recently. Some of the signage for beer sales inside the Coliseum can reportedly be seen through the windows by people outside the Coliseum. A state Alcohol Law Enforcement agent informed the Coliseum management that because the signage could be seen through the windows that the Coliseum was violating the ban on outdoor advertising of alcohol sales. The fact that the signage was indoors rather than outdoors and that the only people who could partake of the alcohol were people who had bought tickets to an event evidently didn’t matter.
It would cost the Coliseum tens of thousands of dollars to move the signage because plumbing would also have to be moved. So Wade added a section to House Bill 573 “Senate Commerce and Insurance Committee Substitute” with the short title “Business/Regulatory Changes.” Wade is co-chairman of the Senate Commerce and Insurance Committee.
The portion dealing with the Coliseum is titled, “Direct ABC Commission to allow indoor advertisements at sports and entertainment venues that are visible from the outside.” The bill passed the state Senate unanimously and was sent back to the state House.
What Wade did was find a bill before her committee that she could add this legislation to and then had it passed by the committee and the full Senate.
Wade’s bill wasn’t sent to the rules committee, and now that it has passed the Senate there is no reason to think that it won’t pass the House.
In the future, if the Greensboro City Council wants a bill passed, at least one councilmember is going to have to take a deep breath and ask for help from a Republican.
When Tony Wilkins was the only Republican on the City Council, he was often asked to communicate with state legislators for the City Council. Evidently the City Council has not found anyone to fill that job.