In addition to education bills to increase the number of charter schools and create a “No Adult Left Behind” program in the state, a lyrical series of “Whereas” clauses arrived in the General Assembly this past week, when legislation to incorporate Grandfather Mountain State Park into the state’s park system was introduced.
One example lauding the new park territory: “Whereas, rare species found at Grandfather Mountain include Spreading avens, Roan Mountain bluet, Heller’s blazing star, Blue Ridge goldenrod, Virginia big-eared bat, Carolina northern flying squirrel, the Spruce-fir moss spider, and many others.” (For the entire list, see HB 128 or SB 89.)
Synopses of other bills of particular interest to Western North Carolina legislators and constituents are presented below, including a pair of bills that would expand or eliminate the cap on number of charter schools in the state.
• HB 100 (Crimes Against Nature): This bill would bring state law into compliance with the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Lawrence v. Texas by amending G.S. 14-177 — “Crime Against Nature” (a felon) — to add the following: “Subsection (a) of this section does not apply if the conduct engaged in … is not with a beat, is not unlawful under Article 27 of Chapter 14 of the General Statues, and is between mutually consenting adults in a private home, private residence, or other private abode.” Passed first reading; referred to Comittee on Rules, Calendar and Operations. Rep. Susan Fisher of Buncombe County, co-sponsor.
• HB 120 (Municipal elections; public financing): Establishes a pilot program for public financing of municipal election campaigns, rewriting a current statute that has allowed public financing in the municipality of Chapel Hill. This bill extends participation through a pilot program administered through the State Board of Elections, which will choose from municipalities whose governing boards have submitted proposals, according to criteria for diversity in region and demographics. Passed first reading; referred to the Committee on Election Law and Campaign Finance Reform. Fisher, Reps. Bruce Goforth of Buncombe County and Ray Rapp of Haywood/Madison/Yancey, co-sponsors.
• HB 123 (Review of capital cases): Provides that the Supreme Court’s proportionality review in capital cases in which the death penalty was imposed be extended in the future to “factually similar cases” in which the jury recommended life imprisonment. This would not be applied to cases retroactively. Passed first reading; referred to Committee on Judiciary II. Fisher, co-sponsor.
• HB 125 (Increase charter school cap): Raises the cap on the number of charter schools by 10 percent of the previous year’s number (current cap is 100). Passed first reading; referred to Committee on Education. Reps. Phillip Frye, Avery/Caldwell/Mitchell/Yancey, Carolyn Justus, Henderson County, and Roger West, Cherokee/Clay/Graham/Macon, co-sponsors.
• HB 128 (Grandfather Mountain State Park): Authorizes the addition of Grandfather Mountain State Park — one of the most biologically diverse ands significant sites in the Southern Appalachian region — to the N.C. state parks system. Passed first reading; referred to Committee on Environment and Natural Resources. Frye, primary sponsor; Fisher, Goforth, Rapp, co-sponsors.
• HB 163 (Private well testing limited): Limits well-water testing for volatile organic compounds in water from newly constructed private drinking-water wells, based upon risk of VOC presence — as determined by the local health department. Reps. Phil Haire, Haywood/Jackson/Macon/Swain counties, West, Frye and Goforth, primary sponsors; Justus, co-sponsor.
• SB 89 (Grandfather Mountain State Park): Companion to HB 128, authorizing the addition of Grandfather Mountain State Park to the state park system. Referred to the Committee on Appropriations/Base Budget. Sen. Joe Sam Queen, Aver/Haywood/Madison/McDowell, Mitchell, Yancey counties, primary sponsor; Sen. John Snow, Cherokee/Clay/Graham/Haywood/Jackson/Macon/Swain/Transylvania, co-sponsor.
• SB 98 (No Adult Left Behind): The “No Adult Left Behind” bill, authorizing and funding an initiative to expand economic opportunities for working adults. Lead agency for the initiative would be the Commission on Workforce Development, coordinating with the other participating agencies, including the Department of Labor, the Department of Commerce, the Employment Security Commission, the North Carolina Community College System, the University of North Carolina and possibly community nonprofit groups that provide assistance in this area. Initial goal: increase to 40 percent the percentage of North Carolineans who earn associate degrees. Referred to Committee on Appropriations/Base Budget. Rep. Carolyn Justus, Henderson County, co-sponsor.
SB 147 (Tax credit for energy-efficient home building): Provides a tax credit to “a taxpayer” who builds or manufactures a single-family or multifamily energy-efficient home (federally certified, $1,000 credit; state-certified, $2,000 credit — only one credit per house). Snow, co-sponsor.
• SB 157 (Eminent domain and nonprofits): Allows differential treatment of nonprofits under eminent domain condemnation, to allow replacement value rate rather than fair market value. Referred to Judiciary I.
• SB 164 (Unauthorized practice of medicine): Amends current law to change the unauthorized practice of medicine from a misdemeanor to a felony. Such practice includes “any act constituting the practice of medicine or surgery” without being duly licensed and registered.
— Nelda Holder, associate editor