RALEIGH — Last week’s rapid thaw loosened more than the just the chunks of ice remaining on the sidewalks in Raleigh. With both of North Carolina’s state government chambers on a more-or-less regular schedule, legislation started to move again.
Many of the new bills are local acts, which have a fast-approaching deadline for introduction. Local bills must be introduced in the House by April 1 and the Senate by March 11.
Sen. Jim Davis, R-Macon, who, as chairman of the Senate’s State and Local Government Committee, is one of the chief gatekeepers of local bills, led by example, introducing three local acts last week.
They include legislation aimed a settling a long-running annexation issue in Haywood County. Senate Bill 141 would put a referendum on Nov. 3 ballot on the annexation of the 1,200 acre Lake Junaluska area into the town of Waynesville. The annexation would take effect on June 30, 2016, if approved by a majority of voters from both the town and the area under consideration.
Davis also introduced legislation that allows the town of Sylva to start adopting and enforcing parking ordinances and grants the town of Lake Santeetlah approval to start levying an occupancy tax of up to 3 percent and set up a tourist development authority to utilize the funds collected.
On the House side, Rep. Josh Dobson, R-McDowell, introduced a bill granting flexibility in setting school calendars to the school boards in Avery, McDowell and Mitchell counties. The change would start with the 2015-2016 school year.
The flurry of bills could be an indication that, after a slow start, the legislature is on a somewhat faster track. Another sign: Recent legislation by Senate Rules chair Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, that dialed back the Senate’s crossover deadline, the date bills must have passed one chamber in order to remain viable for the rest of the session.
Apodaca’s bill, which passed the Senate unanimously last week, requires that all bills that have cleared the House — other than those related to redistricting and the budget — be sent to the Senate no later than April 30, a week earlier than originally scheduled.
Group calls for end to Citizens United
Western North Carolina was well represented at a recent press conference announcing legislation calling for a constitutional convention to overturn the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United.
Buncombe County legislators Rep. Susan Fisher, Rep. John Ager and Sen. Terry Van Duyn and Haywood County Rep. Joe Sam Queen, all Democrats, were on hand to show their support for the bill and rail against the ruling, which allowed the greater flow of so-called “dark money” into political races.
Tom Coulson of the Buncombe County chapter of Move to Amend, a nationwide group pushing the amendment, said he is concerned that the country is turning away from the ideals he fought for as a young man in World War II.
“It never came to me that, all these years later, they would be in greater jeopardy — and this time from within,” he said, “and [that] those ideals would be in retreat on many fronts and our constitution interpreted in ways that erode our democracy.”
The amendment, in short, states that corporations are not “people” under the law and that campaign contributions are not constitutionally protected free speech.
Fisher and Queen are sponsoring a House resolution (H125) on the amendment.
Bills of interest to WNC
Buncombe County Democrats Van Duyn and Fisher have filed legislation in their respective chambers aimed at reviving the adoption of the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. (Van Duyn has filed two bills: S147 and S184; Fisher has filed H166.)
The amendment, introduced in 1972 has been ratified by 35 states, but fell three short of the 38 required for adoption.
North Carolina was one of the 15 states that failed to ratify the amendment which states that “equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”
Other bills introduced last week include:
S197 — Apodaca and Sen. Ralph Hise, R-McDowell, introduced a bill that would allow would allow pharmacists to substitute generic medications when filling prescriptions.
H155 — Dobson was one of four members sponsoring legislation to create a High Achieving Tuition Scholarship, which would set aside $3.5 million annually to cover college tuition for students maintaining a grade point average of 3.5 or higher.
H133 — Rep. Jonathan Jordan, R-Watauga, is one of three sponsors of a bill to increase the reimbursements to students with disabilities from $3,000 to $4,000 per semester for tuition and expenses.
H159 — Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson, was one of a handful of main sponsors of a bipartisan bill to regulate commercial dog breeders and to transfer authority over commercial breeding operations from the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to the N.C. Department of Public Safety. The bill sets up new regulatory authority for enforcement of violations and mandates stricter reporting requirements for breeders.
H162 — McGrady also co-sponsored a bill to improve emergency procedures for student athletes. The bill calls for stepped up training and awareness to prevent sudden cardiac arrest and concussion injuries.