Beating Big Brother: An Inside Look at Defeating Bad Legislation

RALEIGH – Last week we highlighted how the N.C. General Assembly passed, and then reconsidered and defeated, legislation that would proliferate license plate readers on state highways across North Carolina. The intention was to help law enforcement track and catch runaway criminals, kidnappers, and the like, but some lawmakers worried that the bill opened the door to abuse of citizens’ rights. One of those lawmakers, Rep. Keith Kidwell (R-Beaufort) was instrumental in reversing the fortunes for this Big Brother bill, and his behind the scenes account demonstrates how the sausage making process can be used to block such dangerous legislation.

Rep. Keith Kidwell (R) takes his oath to uphold the Constitution.

Kidwell, along with Reps. Michael Speciale (R-Craven) and Larry Pittman (R-Cabarrus) spoke against the bill when it first came up for debate on the House floor. Alas, it still passed, and by a good margin. After the vote, however, some lawmakers, moved by the arguments in opposition to the bill, began changing their votes. This is permitted under House rules to allow for errant votes to be corrected, as long as it does not change the end result (passage in this case). Except more and more votes were being changed, until the point that the House Speaker had to cut off the vote changes because any more changes to ‘Aye’ would change the outcome.

That’s when Kidwell went to work, armed with an understanding of the intricate House rules that revealed a path toward reversing the result and saving citizens of the Old North State from a Big Brother law.

“That’s when I knew I had to find a person that voted on the prevailing side to motion for reconsideration.  This would allow us to re-vote the bill. I could not find any on the Republican side to make the motion. So I reached out to the Democrat majority leader to ask if he would help. Nope, he claimed to not know how any of his people voted.  [I] went to the freshmen section on the Democrat side and all but one had voted against the bill originally or had already changed.”

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At an impasse, Kidwell, who voted against the bill, briefly considered changing his vote so he could make a motion for reconsideration, but this was risky. If he was unsuccessful, and the bill passed again, Kidwell would be recorded as voting for a bill he detested and literally argued against on the House floor. He decided to keep turning over rocks and uncovered a ranking member of the Republican caucus that had voted for the bill. He implored her to make a motion for reconsideration, but the lawmaker wanted a good reason to do so.

“‘Why?’ she asked. I convinced her that it was a bad bill, to begin with. After further consultation with several other Republicans, she made the motion for reconsideration and we garnered enough support to have it reconsidered.”

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When it was brought back up for reconsideration, House Bill 87 failed. Thanks to Rep. Kidwell’s understanding of the rules, and his tenacity in protecting not only his constituents, but all North Carolinians, a bad bill was defeated.

HB87, a major violation of privacy under the 4th Amendment, failed to pass the house. To allow the maker of the bill to save face it was motioned to be returned to the Rules committee where it will be killed. Bottom line, had I not worked the floor to get votes and a motion to reconsider [the bill] would have been sent to the Senate and may well have become law. Knowing the House rule book and working within it enabled killing a bad piece of legislation.

And enabled North Carolinians to breathe a little easier knowing their state government isn’t equipped to track their movements with a network of highway monitoring cameras more at home in an George Orwell novel than the First in Freedom state.

Kudos to Kidwell and the other lawmakers that voted against and worked to defeat this bill. If only we had more lawmakers with the rights of citizens foremost in their mind we may not need such algorithmic feats to protect those rights in the first place.

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