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NC budget will give legislature more power over community colleges, judges

NC Community College System president Jeff Cox speaks at a podium at a press conference announcing his hiring.
Liz Schlemmer
NC Community College System president Jeff Cox announcing his hiring at a press conference in April 2023. Under North Carolina’s new state budget, the state legislature will gain the power to confirm new presidents of the community college system.

North Carolina’s new state budget will become law next week, and several provisions would give the legislature more authority over community colleges and the court system.

One change involves the Judicial Standards Commission, which handles disciplinary actions against judges. Four of its members are attorneys picked by the State Bar. Under the new budget, those four members will be judges selected by House and Senate leaders.

Opponents argue that will give lawmakers too much power over the judicial branch.

"We're kicking off all the lawyers on the commission, the very ones that are in the courtroom, that know the ethics, that know what judges should do and should not do," said Rep. Marcia Morey, D-Durham and a former judge. "It's like telling patients, you shouldn't be deciding how good doctors are."

However, Senate leader Phil Berger defended the move.

"It's just that the General Assembly should have more of a role in appointing to that board and we just decided that that was the way to do it," he said.

The budget bill will also take away the governor’s ability to appoint members of the State Board of Community Colleges. The legislature will now appoint 18 of the board’s 22 members. And it will gain the power to confirm new presidents of the community college system.

Rep. Lindsey Prather, D-Buncombe, called the move a power grab.

"We have the best community college system in the country, and therefore, I think we can assume that our administrative structure is working well as it stands," he said. "Why are we messing with it? How does this help students? It doesn't."

While Gov. Roy Cooper is allowing the budget to become law without his signature — an effort to speed up Medicaid expansion — he’s expected to file a lawsuit to block some of its provisions.

The budget provisions are among several efforts to shift power from the governor to the legislature. Also this week, Cooper vetoed a bill to eliminate his ability to appoint the State Board of Elections, and he's also vetoed a bill that reduces his ability to pick members of other influential state boards and commissions.

Colin Campbell covers politics for WUNC as the station's capitol bureau chief.