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Senate plan said to be close

RALEIGH — A lot of movement on key bills last week and the chance that the North Carolina Senate will roll out its budget plan sometime this week seems evidence aplenty that the state General Assembly is sticking to its plan to for a short, short session.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown, R-Onslow, said Friday a plan could start moving through committees mid-week.

Ahead of that, the Senate Finance Committee is expected to finish up work on a new tax plan, including an update to film tax credits that are set to expire this year.

The incentives, which helped draw several major productions to Western North Carolina — including the Hunger Games — have become a political sticking point and are likely to be reduced in some way. The downside of not having competitive film incentives may be familiar to anyone within sight of Cold Mountain, the namesake of an NC-set film shot in Romania.

A proposal by Gov. Pat McCrory would make it more difficult for reality shows and commercials to tap the credit.

Clean air monitors to be cut

Up for a final vote in the Senate this week is a massive 62-page pack of regulation changes, including several provisions that have environmentalists worried.

The bill would cut in half the state’s air quality monitoring system. The system expanded under the Clean Smokestacks Act, which was aimed at both improving public health and clearing the skies in the Great Smoky Mountains. The legislation also makes it much more difficult for citizen groups to challenge air quality permits issued by the state.

Sierra Club state director Molly Diggins said the bill particularly threatens monitoring of air quality in the state’s wilderness areas.

The bill also would allow companies that do environmental “self-audits” to report any violations found in the audits to state regulators, but still be able to keep information in the audits secret, even from discovery in court cases.

Diggins said the provision, which the Sierra Club successfully fought in the late 1990s, amounts to a “free pass for polluters.”

Once passed by the Senate, the omnibus, the Regulatory Reform Act of 2014, goes to the House.

WNC-related bills advance

Republican Cherokee County Rep. Roger West’s legislative effort to carve out an exemption in state wildlife laws for Brasstown’s annual New Year’s Possum Drop appears to have sprung back to life like a, well, you know.

West, who lives not far from Clay’s Corner, the store where the annual drop and possum pageant takes place, introduced the bill last week. It is set for a vote in the House today (Tuesday).

Previous efforts by West have been met with protests by animal rights groups.

The new Clay County Opossum Exclusion Act reads: “No State statutes, rules, or regulations related to the capture, captivity, treatment, or release of wildlife shall apply to the Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana) between the dates of December 26 of each year and January 2 of each subsequent year.”

Other WNC local bills introduced last week include:

• A bill introduced by Rep. Michele Presnell (R-Burnsville) making it unlawful to discharge a gun or bow and arrow “on, across or over” a state-maintained roadway and right-of-way in Yancey County; and

• Legislation introduced by the House members from Buncombe and Henderson counties aimed at promoting local distillers that allows for “spiritous liquor tastings” at state ABC stores in the city of Asheville.

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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