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'Hege' bill clears first House committee step; executive powers bill heads to House floor
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'Hege' bill clears first House committee step; executive powers bill heads to House floor

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Legislation that would bar felons, including those who have had their records expunged, from running for sheriff cleared the first of two state House committee steps Tuesday.

House Bill 312 — the so-called Gerald Hege bill after the controversial former Davidson County sheriff — cleared the House Judiciary 2 committee by voice vote. It also cleared House Rules and Operations and has been placed on the House session agenda that is set for 2:30 p.m. Wednesday.

In other House committee actions Tuesday, Republican-sponsored House Bill 264 would require a governor to gain Council of State concurrence for most extended-emergency powers.

It cleared House Rules and Operations and goes to the House floor for a vote.

Republican-sponsored House Bill 46 cleared Judiciary 2 and goes to Rules and Operations.

It would incentivize state employees to report work-related fraud and waste with a whistleblower reward worth up to 20% of the determined savings.

House Bill 312 and companion Senate Bill 306 — both Republican sponsored — closely mirror House Bill 863 from the 2019 session.

The bills do not name Hege, the Republican sheriff of Davidson County from 1994 until he resigned in 2004. His name was not cited during Tuesday’s committee debate.

However, Hege is apparently the only sheriff candidate in recent memory whom the bills would affect. He pleaded guilty in 2004 to two felony counts of obstruction of justice after facing 15 felony counts.

The bills would mandate that any candidate for sheriff disclose all felony convictions, including expunged convictions, when filing to run for office.

The bills would bar anyone with a felony conviction, even with an expunction, from being an eligible candidate. The legislation allows an exemption for an unconditional pardon based on innocence.

An amendment was submitted, but failed, that would have allowed for the expungement exemption.

A potential candidate who fails to file the felony disclosure would not be allowed to have their name on the ballot. Any votes for the candidate would not be counted.

County commissioners would be prohibited from appointing an interim sheriff with a felony conviction, including expunged convictions.

The bills would apply to 47 counties, including Alamance, Alleghany, Davidson, Davie, Forsyth, Guilford, Randolph, Rockingham, Stokes and Surry counties in the Triad and Northwest North Carolina.

Executive powers

The Council of State requirement is at the crux of Senate Bill 346, a public bill that can be vetoed.

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The council is comprised of 10 statewide elected officials: governor; lieutenant governor; agriculture commissioner; attorney general; auditor; insurance commissioner; labor commissioner; secretary of state; superintendent of public instruction; and treasurer.

SB346 would set a 10-day expiration on any executive order that does not have the council’s concurrence, and 45-day expiration for an order that does unless the legislature votes to extend the order.

The council has had a 6-4 Republican margin throughout Cooper’s terms in office.

All six GOP council members have expressed their desire to fully reopen the state’s economy sooner than Gov. Roy Cooper and state Health Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen have wanted from a public-health perspective.

During a declared statewide emergency, such as the pandemic, the governor can request the concurrence of the council on executive orders to demonstrate bipartisan support.

However, it is not required in many instances.

Republican legislative leaders began criticizing what they considered as the sweeping nature of Cooper’s pandemic executive orders shortly after they began to be issued.

Several bills were passed during the 2020 session by the Republican-controlled legislature that would require council concurrence or make certain business sectors — such as bars, bowling alleys, amusement parks and restaurants — exempt from the executive orders.

Cooper vetoed all of those bills. After five veto override votes failed to win Democratic support, Republican leadership backed off additional override attempts for the rest of the 2020 session.

Whistleblower bill

The goal of House Bill 46 is strengthening state Human Resource Whistleblower protections.

They would affect actions that: violate state or federal law, rule or regulation; fraud; misappropriation of state resources; causes substantial and specific danger to the public health and safety; represent gross mismanagement, a gross waste of monies, or gross abuse of authority.

The bill requires state employees to report verbally or in writing “in good faith” those activities that they “reasonably believe to be” occurring.

The monetary incentive requires substantiated allegation of improper governmental activities.

Such substantiation would be “immediately referred to and reviewed by the Office of State Budget and Management.”

Within 90 days of the date of referral, the office “shall determine the amount of any savings to the state generated by substantiated allegations.” The employee would be “entitled to receive a monetary reward equal to 20% of the determined savings.

The bill would make the whistleblower immune from civil liability “that might otherwise be incurred or imposed as a result of making the report.” Their name would not be made public “until the matter is resolved or the employee consents to the report being made public.”

If a state employee is reluctant to make the whistleblowing claim to officials in their agency, they can file a report with the State Auditor’s Office.

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@rcraverWSJ

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