Editorial: N.C. Senate uses shady moves to pass abortion bill

Jul. 03, 2013 @ 11:44 AM

Pay attention only to legislative leaders' methods, not their pet issues, and you might think the legislature was still being run by Democrats.

Didn’t the Republicans promise something better? For decades they complained about Democratic arrogance, back-room dealing, shady procedural moves, bills written (or overhauled) in secret, oddly coincidental timing – and those were just the minor complaints.

But they just can’t help themselves. Now that they are in power, secret power plays are so much easier than an open, democratic process that they just can’t help acting like the Democrats they criticized.

At least as far as this applies to one bill the Senate passed Tuesday, Republican Gov. Pat McCrory agrees. He issued this statement Wednesday morning:

"When the Democrats were in power, this is the way they did business. It was not right then and it is not right now. Regardless of what party is in charge or what important issue is being discussed, the process must be appropriate and thorough."

We and McCrory are referring here to the way the Senate handled House Bill 695, which previously had dealt solely with the issue of barring the use of Islamic Shariah law in North Carolina’s family courts but late Tuesday suddenly became an omnibus anti-abortion bill containing almost all the worst provisions that have made various states laughingstocks over the past two years. The only thing missing was a requirement for a medically unnecessary, invasive vaginal ultrasound.

Democrats objected to the measure being pushed through so unexpectedly – with committee and full Senate floor votes in rapid succession.

But their complaint was not accurate. THEY didn’t expect it, but lobbyists with nonprofits that have religious or moral purposes – including the Family Policy Council, Christian Action League and N.C. Values Coalition – were in the room for the committee debate and the subsequent Senate floor debate. Clearly they expected it. Perhaps the lobbyists are psychic.

Or perhaps, instead, the entire thing was hatched in secret well in advance, between the lobbyists and such Torquemada-minded politicians as Sen. Buck Newton, R-Wilson, who defended the unusual maneuver of sweeping together – virtually without notice, late on the day before a holiday starts – several bills that each were in different stages of the legislative process into one omnibus measure using the shell of a completely unrelated bill.

"For members in the back row who weren't paying attention, they apparently didn't realize there were bills that were over here to be voted on anyway," Newton said. "The rest of us knew they were here. We thought it would be better to put them in a bill."

That’s disingenuous, at best.

All of the measures had languished for a reason. They were combined and revived for a related reason: last-minute circumvention of the popular and accurate notion that they were politically toxic measures.

It is unlikely, but by no means certain, that the reconstituted HB 695 will survive. The House, which so far seems the more level-headed of the two houses of the legislature, would still have to pass it, and Gov. Pat McCrory said last fall that he didn’t want to sign additional abortion restrictions into law.

House leaders, and the governor, should be hesitant to sign on to this effort to railroad through a bill full of such sweeping and controversial measures.

Republicans ran in 2012 on a platform of economic improvement and managerial competence, not one of “We’ll govern the same way the Democrats did, except from the right wing.”