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WNC-related bills introduced

Elementary school teacher Kristen Beller addresses Moral Monday participants during a rally on Wednesday, the opening day of the short session. The Moral Monday protests are set to begin again today. Kirk Ross/Carolina Public Press

RALEIGH — The first full week of the 2014 N.C. General Assembly’s short session gets started today with the main reason legislators came back to town and the driving force behind the weekly Moral Monday protests — the North Carolina state budget.

Last week, lawmakers got their first briefing on Gov. Pat McCrory’s $21 billion plan. This week, they open with hearings on potential tweaks to last year’s tax plan and begin work on their own spending plan. Overall, lawmakers face a $445 million gap in this year’s budget, lowered projections for next year and additional needs in Medicaid. Like the governor, legislative leaders have committed to a pay boost for teachers and state employees.

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It’s a reminder that, as contentious the political debate is, the process of working out readjustments in how the state spends its money still shapes the conversation until something passes both houses and is signed by the governor.

Lawmakers are working toward a June 30 deadline for having a new budget plan in place. Other deadlines start falling this week. All bills from study commissions working over the interim are due Wednesday. Next week marks the filing deadlines for all local legislation and any bill affecting next year’s budget.

Despite the timeline, there’s no shortage of possibilities. Dozens of bills that managed to pass at least one chamber last year remain eligible for consideration.

Protests return under new rules

The General Assembly leadership moved quickly last week to put in place its answer to the Moral Monday rallies and some of the twists and turns of the roughly 950 legal cases resulting in the actions last year.

On Thursday, the Legislative Services Commission met for the first time since 1999 and passed the first update to building rules since 1987.

The new rules tighten noise levels, making it a violation to “impair other’s ability to conduct a conversation in a normal tone of voice while in the general vicinity.” Signs that are used to “disturb” will be confiscated, and visitors who “disturb or act in a manner that will imminently disturb” the legislature or its staff can be asked to leave.

Failure to do so will also be a violation of building rules, a Class 1 misdemeanor.

In response to the change, the Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP, called the new rules “intimidation.” The organization’s attorney, Al McSurely, said the new rules would not survive a constitutional challenge.

Groups start gathering for the first Moral Monday event of the session today at 5 p.m. at the Bicentennial Mall on Jones Street.

WNC legislators introduce bills

As is the custom at this point in the session, legislators introduced a flurry of bills in the works over the interim.

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Among the first was legislation introduced in the state House by the Buncombe and Henderson county delegations that asks for an exemption from the Sullivan Act for an interlocal agreement signed by the city of Asheville and Henderson County for the Bent Creek property. The agreement, completed in mid-April, allows the two to split proceeds from the sale of the approximately 132-acre parcel. According to the agreement, Henderson County plans to use the funds for a training range for law enforcement. Asheville plans to turn the funds over to Buncombe County for public safety programs.

Here’s a rundown of other WNC-related bills introduced so far this session:

• H1054 Spindale Sewer Fee Collection — Introduced by Rep. Mike Hager, R-Rutherford, the bill strengthens Spindales’s ability collect unpaid sewer fees;

•  H1056 Lake Lure Deannexation — introduced by Rep. Mike Hager, R-Rutherford;

• H1114 Elk Park/Deed Transferring Property — Introduced by Rep. Josh Dobson, R-Avery; and

• S736 Murphy Deannexation — Introduced by Rep. Roger West, R-Cherokee.

More details on these bills will become available in the coming days and weeks.

Kirk Ross

Based in the Triangle, Kirk Ross is the capital bureau chief for Carolina Public Press. Contact him at kross@carolinapublicpress.org.

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