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Bill for partisan court elections gets final OK

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- The Latest on the North Carolina House considering bills addressing judicial appointments and the Court of Appeals (all times local):

2:55 p.m.

The North Carolina General Assembly has given final approval to Republican legislation that would make elections for local court judgeships officially partisan races again.

The House agreed Wednesday to slight changes made by the Senate to the measure, which is similar to a state law approved quickly in December that restored partisan races for the state Supreme Court and Court of Appeals.

The new bill now goes to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who could issue his first veto on the measure. Cooper said Tuesday he has "real concerns about throwing judicial elections back to the partisan arena."

Cooper pushed for nonpartisan races for Superior Court while a state senator in the 1990s. But it appears Republicans could have the margins to override any veto based on House and Senate floor votes on the measure.

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12:50 p.m.

North Carolina House Republicans have pushed several bills through a committee that would remove Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper's powers to appoint judges and would reduce the number of Court of Appeals judges.

The judiciary panel narrowly approved the legislation Wednesday along party lines. House Democrats and a former Court of Appeals judge questioned the necessity of the changes.

Two bills would end the governor's authority to fill vacancies for District Court and special Superior Court judgeships and give it to the legislature. The third bill would reduce the Court of Appeals from 15 judges to 12.

Rep. Sarah Stevens of Mount Airy defended the Court of Appeals bill by citing data showing the court's caseload has fallen 20 percent in five years. Recent Judge Martha Geer told the committee removing judges through attrition would delay justice for many.

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1:40 a.m.

There are more attempts afoot in the North Carolina General Assembly to change how judges are chosen.

A House judiciary panel scheduled debate Wednesday on three measures, two of which would remove the governor's authority to appoint some judges and give it to the legislature. The bills would address vacancies for District Court judge and special Superior Court judgeships.

The measures are the latest efforts by the Republican-controlled legislature to reduce the governor's powers, particularly those of new Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper.

A third bill slated for debate Wednesday would reduce the number of Court of Appeals judges from 15 to 12.

Republicans already are nearing final passage this year of another bill that would make elections for District Court and Superior Court judgeships officially partisan races again.

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