Several local WNC bills made appearances in the General Assembly over the past week, including an act to incorporate the town of Swannanoa (SB 553), a bill to allow towing-regulation ordinances to address nonconsensual towing in Asheville (HB 500), and amendments to the Sullivan Act to allow a portion of the city of Asheville’s utility revenues to be spent for sidewalk and street repair resulting from waterline improvements (SB 552), and revisions to the laws governing the Asheville Civil Service Board (SB 556).
A cluster of infant health bills recommended by the Child Fatality Task Force also moved in the House, following their earlier companion bills in the Senate. These addressed the prevention of preterm births (HB 477) and the reduction of occurrence of Shaken Baby Syndrome (HB 478) and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (HB 479). Synopses of these and other bills of particular interest to WNC legislators or residents follow:
HB 477 – Prevent Preterm Births: One of three appropriations bills (HB 477, 478, 479) recommended by the Child Fatality Task Force, specifically aimed at pre- and post-birth health; allocates $97,000 in each of the next two fiscal years to provide special medications to eligible low-income and minority women at risk for recurring preterm birth, and to educate community-based health-care workers on medication administration. (SB 247, companion bill.) Passed first reading; referred to Committee on Appropriations. Rep. Susan Fisher of Buncombe County, co-sponsor.
HB 478 - Reduce Occurrence of Shaken Baby Syndrome: Appropriates $200,000 for each of the next two fiscal years to provide matching grants to nonprofit hospitals and health-care organizations, for the purpose of encouraging delivery of radio and television messagaes on Shaken Baby Syndrome. (SB 244, companion bill.) Passed first reading; referred to Appropriations. Fisher, co-sponsor.
HB 479 – Reduce Sudden Infant Death Syndrome: Appropriates $20,000 for each of the next two fiscal years to develop and implement an ongoing Safe Sleep Awareness campaign to aid in pervention of SIDS and infant strangulations and suffocations. (SB 246, companion bill.) Passed first reading; referred to Appropriations. Fisher, co-sponsor.
HB 500 – Regulation on Nonconsensual Towing/Asheville: Allows the city of Asheville to establish regulations for towing motor vehicles from private lots, garages, or other parking facilities. Includes establishing a rate not lower than that for towing junked/abandoned cars; required release of vehicle if owner encounters wrecker in the parking lot for release fee not to exceed 50 percent of towing fee; require tow operator to accept credit or debit cards; require that tow operator allow access to retrieve medicines, pets, or other personal items; require that tow lot be secure and properly lighted; require tow operator to maintain 24-hour telephone access. Passed first reading; referred to Committee on Local Government. Reps. Bruce Goforth, Jane Whilden, Fisher of Buncombe County, primary sponsors.
HB 516 - Increase Revenue Without Raising Taxes: Would redirect annual payments now going to the Golden L.E.A.F. (Long-term Economic Advancement Foundation) Inc. from the Master Settlement Fund, and pay them instead to the General Fund — so notifying the court in the action entitled State of North Carolina v. Philip Morris Incorporated, et al. Passed first reading; referred to Committee on Rules, Calendar and Operations. Rep. Carolyn Justus of Henderson County, co-sponsor.
HB 548 – School Violence Prevention Act: Seeks to protect the health and welfare of North Carolina students and improve their learning environment by requiring each local school administrative unit to adopt a policy before Dec. 31, 2009, prohibiting bullying or harassing behavior — defined as, but not limited to, acts creating a hostile environment and reasonably perceived as being motivated by such differentiating characteristics as “race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, socioeconomic status, academic status, gender identity or expression, physical appearance, sexual orientation, or mental, physical, developmental, or sensory disability, or by association with a person who has or is perceived to have one or more of these characteristics.” Applied to students and school employees. (SB 526, companion bill.) Passed first reading; referred to Committee on Education. Fisher, primary sponsor; Reps. Phil Haire of Haywood/Jackson/Macon Swain, Ray Rapp of Haywood/Madison/Yancey, Whilden, co-sponsors.
HB 586 – Expand Voter-Owned Elections: Expands the Voter-Owned Elections Act to cover additional Council of State positions (Secretary of State, Attorney General, Treasurer, Commissioner of Agriculture and Commission of Labor) in 2012 and thereafter, through use of the Voter-Owned Elections Fund as an alternative source of campaign financing. Filed. Rapp, primary sponsor; Fisher, Goforth, co-sponsors.
SB 534 – Healthy Families and Healthy Workplaces Act: Ensures that all workers have paid sick days to address their own health needs and the health needs of their families. Provides that paid sick time shall accrue at the rate of one hour for every 30 hours worked, with a limit of 32 hours for employees of small businesses and 56 hours for other employers. (HB 177, companion bill.) Filed; referred to Committee on Commerce. Sens. Doug Berger of Franklin/Granville/Vance/Warren, Steve Goss of Alexander/Ashe/Watauga/Wilkes, Martin Nesbitt Jr. of Buncombe, John Snow of Cherokee/Clay/Graham/Haywood/Jackson/Macon/Swain/Transylvania, co-sponsors.
SB 552 – Amendments to Sullivan Act: Allows the city of Asheville to use up to 5 percent of utility revenues for street and sidewalk improvements associated with waterline improvements. Filed; referred to Committee on State and Local Goverment. Nesbitt, primary sponsor.
SB 553 – Incorporate the Town of Swannanoa: Provides for incorporation of the town of Swannanoa and sets forth temporary officers, structure of governing, manner of electing town council, mayor, mayor pro tem, establishing elections, form of government, council powers, taxes, ordinances. Filed; referred to Committee on Finance. Nesbitt, primary sponsor.
SB 556 – Asheville City Civil Service Board: Revises the laws relating to the Asheville Civil Service Board to include provisions to allow former employees of the city to serve on the board after 10 consecutive years of separation from such employment. No person may serve who benefits personally, or whose spouse or immediate family member benefits financially from a business relationship with the city. Establishes methods of recordkeeping and notification in accordance with Open Meetings Law, and requires regular meetings at least once a month. Filed; referred to State and Local Government. Nesbitt, primary sponsor.
SB 595 – The Terri Schiavo Act: Requests the Legislative Research Commission to study the issue of integrating a living will, or advanced health-care directive, with the driver’s’ license process (similar to organ donation directive). Filed. Sen. Tom Apodaca of Buncombe/Henderson/Polk
— Nelda Holder, associate editor