Legislature looks at absentee voting, animal tethering, mandatory testing in schools

Among the far-ranging topics of legislation submitted in the N.C. General Assembly during the past week were bills that would amend the absentee voting law, permit immediate euthanization of stray animals that bite humans, limit mandatory testing in the public schools, and provide written parental notification when a student is recommended for expulsion or suspension.

March 20 was the deadline for public bill drafting in the N.C. Senate, with 3 p.m. on March 25 being the filing deadline for such bills. The House must file all local bills by April 1, and public bills (not appropriations bills) by April 8; appropriations and finance bills must be filed by May 6. Following are the synopses of recent bills of particular interest to WNC legislators and/or citizens.

HB 602Mental Health Services Funds: Appropriates $3 million for expansion of services and support for people with mental health, developmental disabilities and addictive diseases, as recommended by the Coalition (formerly Coalition 2001), including $1 million for persons with mental illness who are deaf, and $1 million for peer-support positions in drop-in centers, to help people find housing, and help with readjustments after imprisonment or time spent in recovery centers. Another $500,000 would establish a Center for Excellence in conjunction with the university and community-college systems to promote evidence-based best-practice models/methods of treatment; and $500,000 would expand jail diversion programs to keep individuals with mental illness in community-based programs. (Companion bill, SB 517.) Referred to Committee on Mental Health Reform.

HB 609Limit State-mandated Tests in Schools/2 Years: Suspends statewide testing program in public schools except as otherwise required by federal law. Referred to Committee on Education. Reps. Phillip Frye of Avery/Caldwell/Mitchell/Yancey counties and Carolyn Justus of Henderson County, co-sponsors.

HB 614Absentee Voting Improvements: Amends absentee-voting laws, especially to improve ability of military and overseas voters to cast timely ballots. Referred to Committee on Election Law and Campaign Finance Reform. Rep. Ray Rapp of Haywood/Madison/Yancey, primary sponsor; Rep. Susan Fisher of Buncombe County, co-sponsor.

HB 626Restraining of Dogs: Amends criminal law concerning restraining dogs by chain or tether for more than nine hours in a 24-hour period. Specifies chain or tether must be at least 15 feet long, and must allow dog access to food and shelter. Referred to Committee on Wildlife Resources. Fisher, primary sponsor. 

HB 625  – Remove Matching Funds Provisions of the Public Campaign Act: Conforms existing law to be consistent with the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Davis v. Federal Election Commission, specifically removing matching funds provisions to state law.

HB 658Funds for Juvenile Crime Prevention Councils: Appropriates $500,000 to be allocated to local Juvenile Crime Prevention Councils, as recommended by the Joint Legislative Study Commission on Children and Youth. Purpose is to implement juvenile justice reform and provide for early intervention and prevention of juvenile crime and delinquency. Referred to Appropriations. Fisher and Rapp, co-sponsors.

HB 693Ban Smoking in Foster Care Setting/Infants: Authorizes Social Services Commission o adopt a policy prohibiting a foster parent from smoking in the presence of an infant in the foster parent’s care. (Companion bill, SB 673.) Filed. Fisher, co-sponsor.

HB 727Annexation Changes: Gives priority consideration for Community Development Block Grants to projects in areas annexed by a municipality in order to provide water and sewer services to low-income residents (family income 50 percent or less of median family income). (Companion bill, SB 472.) Filed. Frye, co-sponsor.

SB 517 Mental Health Services Funds: See companion bill HB 602, above. Referred to Committee on Appropriations. Sen. Steve Goss of Alexander/Ashe/Watauga/Wilkes counties, primary sponsor; Sens. Tom Apodaca of Buncombe/Henderson/Polk, Joe Sam Queen of Avery/Haywood/Madison/McDowell/Mitchell/Yancey, John Snow of Cherokee/Clay/Graham/Haywood/Jackson/Macon/Swain/Transylvania, co-sponsors.

SB 674Amend Rabies Law: Amends current law to include ferrets (in addition to dogs and cats), and to allow immediate euthanization of stray or feral animals (as determined by a local health director or animal-control officer) after biting a human, with submission of the animal’s head to the State Laboratory of Public health for testing for rabies. Referred to Committee on Health Care.

SB 680 Increase Penalties for Drug Trafficking: Increases level of penalty for drug trafficking by one level of felony. (Includes excess of 10 pounds of marijuana, 1,000 or more dosage units of methaqualone, 28 grams or more of cocaine, 28 grams or more of methamphetamine or amphetamine, four grams or more of opium or opiate, 100 dosage units or the equivalent of Lysergic Acid Diethylamide, 28 grams or more of 3,4-methylenedioxyamphetamine (MDA) or 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA). Goss, co-sponsor.

SB 725Out-of-State Insurance Policies/Allow Purchase: Permits purchase of accident and health policies offered by insurers licensed in other states (group, blanket or individual policies). Filed.

SB 729Prevent the Theft of Scrap Metals: Strengthens requirements regarding secondary metals recycling of regulated metals by requiring signed receipts for secondary metals that include the fingerprint of the person delivery the materials; limits materials that may be purchased without written documentation. (Companion bill, HB 323.) Filed.

SB 737Parent & Student Educational Involvement Act: (Companion bill, HB 218.) Requires written notice to student’s parent/guardian/caregiver by the end of the workday during which the student is recommended for suspension or expulsion, or by the following workday, providing a description of the incident leading to the recommendation and the policy or rule alleged to have been violated, as well as the process for contested hearing. Queen, primary sponsor; Sen. Martin Nesbitt Jr. of Buncombe County, Apodaca,  of Buncombe, Snow and Goss, co-sponsors.

Nelda Holder, associate editor

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