N.C. Rep. Roger West (center), a Republican who represents Cherokee, Clay, Graham and Macon counties, chats with state Rep. Bill Owens, D-Pasquotank, and lobbyist Zeb Alley during a break on the House floor this spring.

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RALEIGH — The North Carolina House on Tuesday narrowly defeated a measure that would have banned property owners from prohibiting people from keeping licensed guns in their locked cars.

The House tentatively approved an overhaul for a number of other gun rules, including an expansion of the state’s Castle Doctrine, which is meant to give licensed gun owners more power to fight off carjackers.

The House also voted to create a new $6,000 tax credit to help families with disabled children send their kids to private schools, to require businesses to use the federal e-verify system to check new employees’ immigration status, to make sure principals ask for new students’ birth certificates, and to make judge races partisan again.

A voter identification bill requiring photographic identification at the polls didn’t make it to the House floor during the late-night session. But it did move through committee, signaling that Republicans in control at the General Assembly will make good on a campaign promise to require the I.D.s before Thursday’s crossover deadline.

That’s the day bills are supposed to pass either the House or Senate if they’re to stay alive for the rest of this session or next year’s short session. There are ways around that deadline, but if a bill doesn’t pass one chamber by Thursday, it’s prognosis isn’t good.

A few more details on legislation that passed the one chamber Thursday and headed for the other for further debate, or are one vote away from that:

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GUNS
House Bill 650: This voluminous gun bill makes a number of changes, most of them geared toward allowing licensed gun owners to keep weapons locked in their cars in parking lots, including school parking lots. The goal was to replace a tapestry of different rules with standard ones so gun owners won’t “have to worry about whether (they) can go on property or not without being a felon,” said state Rep. Mitch Gillespie, R-Burke, McDowell. An attempt to remove schools from the bill failed, but legislators did remove a provision that would have banned property owners from prohibiting people from keeping guns locked in a business parking lot. The bill also expands the state’s Castle Doctrine, which lays out where a licensed gun owner can shoot an assailant without fear of prosecution. Generally, the bill expands this doctrine from a person’s house to their car. The vote was 76-39 to pass this bill on to the Senate.

IMMIGRATION
House Bill 36: Requires any business that employs 25 people or more to use the federal immigration status database, e-verify, to check employees. There’s an an exemption for farms and other businesses that hire seasonal workers, but any business — regardless of size — that gets a government contract would have to use the system. Likewise, the bill expands a current requirement that state agencies use e-verify to North Carolina cities and counties. Opponents argued that inaccuracies in the system unfairly flag some legal workers, and particularly naturalized citizens and non-U.S. citizens with green cards who can legally work in the country. State Rep. Roger West, a Republican who represents Cherokee, Clay, Graham and Macon counties, dubbed the new requirements “fair.” The bill passed its second reading 75-43 and needs one more vote to move to the Senate.

House Bill 744: Initially this bill required public school principals to ask the parents of new enrollees whether their child is a U.S. citizen. That was stripped out, but principals would still have to ask for a birth certificate, instead of having the option to request one like they do now. Several immigration reform groups have said this bill is meant to intimidate immigrant families and keep their children out of public schools. Sponsoring state Rep. Dale Folwell, R-Forsyth, said it’s about keeping schools safe and setting statewide standards for entry. But Folwell couldn’t answer Democrats’ questions about what happens if a child’s family can’t produce a birth certificate. Could the child still enroll, given the requirement to educate “every child of appropriate age and of sufficient mental and physical ability” written into the state’s constitution? Folwell said he wasn’t sure, but would find out before a final House vote. The bill passed second reading, 65-30.

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EDUCATION
House Bill 344: This creates a $6,000 tax credit families with disabled children can use to send their child to the school of their choice. Opponents called the credit a school voucher, and said it’s another GOP step meant to take funding away from public schools and transfer it to private ones. They also said that, since $6,000 isn’t enough to fully cover tuition, the bill will only benefit families with money. But proponents noted that not every school has the programs some children need, and this offers some help to families who need it most. The bill passed second reading 73-39 and is one vote away from heading to the Senate.

ELECTIONS
House Bill 452: This returns judicial elections to partisan affairs and makes a number of other changes, including getting rid of “instant runoffs” in judge races. Judges would run in party primaries, then have the option of listing their party affiliation in the general election. The bill also does away with public funding for council-of-state positions, such as the state auditor, which several Democrats worried would inject more private money into those races, fostering a pay-to-play atmosphere. The bill passed the house 67-50.

Senate Bill 411: This does away with straight-party ticket voting in North Carolina, which allows voters to simply vote for all the candidates in one party. The bill passed second reading in the Senate 31-19 and is one vote away from heading to the House.

GOVERNMENT DEBT
House Bill 491: This would roll back provisions allowing state government to issue certain types of debt without voter approval and require a referendum instead. It passed second reading 65-52 and is one vote away from moving to the Senate.

Travis Fain

Travis Fain is a contributing reporter for Carolina Public Press. Contact him at ctfain@yahoo.com.

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