Legislators pile up the bills; governor throws another one out

It was a busy first week of March in the N.C. General Assembly, with some 50 bills introduced in the House and more than 80 in the Senate — plus action on legislation already in the loop. The upcoming week marks the beginning of the end for new bills: Public bills and resolutions for the Senate must be in bill drafting by 4 p.m. on Friday, March 11, and must be filed by March 23. Local bills for the House are due in drafting March 16 and must be filed by March 30; public bills (not appropriations or finance) must reach drafting by March 24 and be filed by April 6.

In other matters of timing, the countdown on the Health Care Freedom Act (HB 2) went down to the wire, but just before 2 p.m. on Saturday, Gov. Bev Perdue vetoed the controversial legislation that would have pitted the state against the federal health-care law (see last week’s column). “A state can’t pass a law that is out of obeyance with federal laws, and this House Bill 2 clearly is,” Perdue said in her press statement on the matter. She gave two other reasons for the veto, her second of the session, noting that 27 other states are challenging the national law, making such action “extraneous to North Carolina.” And in line with Attorney General Roy Cooper‘s arguments, Perdue said unintended consequences would “dramatically affect our Medicaid program,” among other negative financial consequences of the legislation.

Two weeks ago, Perdue vetoed the Balanced Budget Act of 2011 (SB 13) because she found its effect detrimental to the state’s efforts to attract businesses and increase jobs. This resulted in the filing of a new bill, Spending Cuts for the Current Fiscal Year, (SB 109), which would have the governor find $537,740,799 for the 2011-12 fiscal year by reducing expenditures in the remainder of the current fiscal year. The bill has passed its third reading in the Senate. (WNC Republican Sen. Ralph Hise of Spruce Pine co-sponsored both bills.)

Perdue is only the second N.C. governor to have the power to veto legislation passed by the General Assembly. The state was the last in the country to grant its governor that option, established by constitutional amendment in 1996. Perdue’s predecessor, Mike Easley, executed nine vetos in his two terms, and only one of those was overturned by the Legislature (a 2008 law exempting wider boats and trailers on state roads from a special permit). Perdue is currently being lobbied by Democrats for a potential third veto of the No Cap on Number of Charter Schools bill (SB 8), which passed the Senate last week and is likely to pass the House this week (co-sponsors were Republican Sens. Hise and Tom Apodaca, whose district includes part of Buncombe County).  WNC Reps. Susan Fisher and Patsy Keever of Buncombe County and Ray Rapp of Madison County — among others — have raised objections to provisions in SB 8 and are introducing an alternative in the House this week (see Xpress report, March 4).

Several new bills joined a “repeal annexation” movement in the Legislature that now includes efforts to void annexations in various municipalities such as Kinstson (HB 5), Lexington (HB 37), Rocky Mount (HB 56), Lewisville (HB 133/SB 80) Wilmington (HB 180), Goldsboro (HB 196), Fayetteville (HB 231), and Asheville’s Biltmore Lake territory (HB 236). An early bill calling for an involuntary annexation moratorium (HB 9, co-sponsored by WNC Republican Reps. David Guice of Brevard and Tim Moffitt of Asheville) was referred to the House Judiciary Committee on Jan. 27, where it remains. A similar bill was introduced in the Senate last week (SB 27), co-sponsored by Apodaca) and passed its second reading on Thursday.

Other legislative action last week of particular pertinence to Western North Carolina included the following:

HB 222/SB 194 (Electric Vehicle Incentives): Authorizes plug-in electric vehicles to use high-occupancy vehicle lanes and exempts them from emissions inspection. Passed first reading in House; referred to Transporation; co-sponsor, Republican Chuck McGrady of Hendersonville. Passed first reading in Senate; referred to Commerce; co-sponsor, Apodaca.

HB 223 (Healthy Families & Workplaces/Paid Sick Days): Requires paid sick time for any employee in the state, accrued at one hour for every 30 worked (limit 32 hours/accrued per year for small businesses, 56 for other employers).

SB 166 (No Adult Left Behind): Instructs the Commission on Workforce Development to coordinate an initiative to achieve workforce development goals including increasing to 40 percent the number of North Carolinians earning associates degress and other two-year educational degrees, and baccalaureate degrees. Passed first reading; referred to Education/Higher Education.

SB179 (Failure to Carry or Complete Alien Registration Documents): Creates the crime of “willful failure to carry or complete an alien registration document” (per federal law) as a Class 1 misdemeanor with maximum fine of $100, maximum imprisonment 20 days (30 for subsequent offenses). Passed first reading; referred to Rules and Operations. Co-sponsor, Hise.

SB 187 (Outlaw Red Light Camera Systems): Makes the operation of a traffic control photographic system by any person illegal in the state (Class 1 misdemeanor). Passed first reading; referred to Transportation. Co-sponsor, Hise.

SB 195 (Operation of Mopeds): Requires mopeds to be registered with the Division of Motor Vehicles and, if used on public streets, to have financial responsibility (insurance) in full force and effect. Passed first reading; referred to Insurance. Primary sponsor, Apodaca; co-sponsor, Hise.

SB 204 (Public Entities & Contractor/Use E-Verify): Requires counties, municipalities and public contractors to use the federal E-Verify program for work authorization of new employees. Filed. Co-sponsors, Apodaca and Hise.

by Nelda Holder, contributing editor


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