By David Bass
Carolina Journal News Service
RALEIGH — Republican senators have introduced a bill that would require lawmakers to sign off on any deal settling a lawsuit in which the legislature is a party.
The move, Senate Bill 360, Prohibit Collusive Settlements by the Attorney General, prevents state agencies from circumventing the lawmaking process and changing laws through settlements with friendly plaintiffs, a news release says.
Last week, Republican lawmakers in a hearing grilled State Board of Elections Director Karen Brinson Bell over her handling of the 2020 election. The point of the dispute centered on two moves that Brinson Bell made after lawyers with the State Board of Elections and Attorney General Josh Stein’s office reached a settlement agreement in a lawsuit brought by national Democrat attorney Marc Elias, who sued the state last summer over absentee by mail ballot rules.
The two-hour hearing on March 23 before the N.C. Senate Elections Committee hinged on one central question: Did Brinson Bell, a registered Democrat, change election law after voting began last year? Brinson Bell claimed during the hearing that “rules were changed but the laws were not changed,” while GOP lawmakers fired back that her claim amounted to semantics.
“I do think that you changed election laws,” said Sen. Joyce Krawiec, R-Forsyth. “When you change a rule that changes a law, the law has been changed. In my mind, this was nothing short of an unprecedented effort to usurp the N.C. General Assembly.”
The negotiations among allied parties took place in secret and cut out the General Assembly, which was a co-defendant in the case, the senators say in a news release.
Sen. Paul Newton, R-Cabarrus, a primary sponsor, co-chairs the Senate Elections Committee.
“Elections Director Karen Brinson Bell and Attorney General Josh Stein behaved so egregiously and improperly that they’ve lost the trust of voters and legislators,” Newton said in a statement. “Director Brinson Bell wouldn’t even acknowledge that she changed state law last year, a fact that federal judges and reporters have upheld for months.
“This bill is intended to make sure no elections director, whether Ms. Brinson Bell or someone else, ever has the power to secretly execute a mid-election law change via secret settlement with political allies.”
Other primary sponsors are Sen. Warren Daniel, R-Burke, and Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell.