For Western North Carolina, some of the important legislative news this past week included the passage of freshman Rep. Tim Moffitt’s local bill to mandate district elections for the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners, starting in 2012. Moffitt, a Republican representing District 116 and the sole sponsor of the bill, pulled this off despite the opposition of the all-Democratic current board as well as the opposition of the county’s Democratic representatives. The bill (HB 471) passed the House on May 2 and the Senate on May 18, ostensibly along party lines; it was ratified May 19 as Session Law 2011-81. (For further details, see May 18 Xpress report.)
Other bills sponsored by WNC legislators that received final passage last week included HB 197, the school calendar bill that will allow flexibility for local boards of education dealing with instructional time lost due to bad weather or other emergency situations. The bill was presented to the governor on May 18. This legislation was spearheaded by WNC representatives and offered some bipartisan cooperation; primary sponsors included Republicans Phillip Frye of Avery/Caldwell/Mitchell/Yancey counties and Roger West of Cherokee/Clay/Graham/Macon, along with Democrat Ray Rapp of Haywood/Madison/Yancey. Co-sponsors include Republicans Chuck McGrady of Henderson County and Moffitt. Meanwhile, HB 222, an incentives bill for electric vehicles that allows their operation in high-occupancy vehicle lanes and exempts them from the state’s emissions inspections, did find bipartisan support statewide, but McGrady was the only WNC co-sponsor. The bill was ratified May 18 and presented to Gov. Bev Purdue on May 19.
On the move
HB 542 (Tort Reform for Citizens and Businesses) just saw a second postponement on the House calendar; it is now scheduled for May 31. Moffitt, who has had a busy first session, is currently the only WNC co-sponsor; the bill’s primary sponsorship lists two Democrats and two Republicans. Moffitt’s name is in the co-sponsor slot for HB 572 as well, a bill that guarantees public access to the financial statements of nonprofits receiving public funding. WNC’s West is a primary sponsor, and at present, only Republicans legislators are on the sponsorship roster.
With the exception of unaffiliated Bert Jones of Rockingham, Republicans comprise the 44 representatives on the sponsorship list for the controversial Abortion-Woman’s Right to Know Act (HB 854) as well, although Moffitt’s name is not among them. Only two WNC Republicans have signed on as co-sponsors: Frye and David Guice. Two female Republicans, Ruth Samuelson (Mecklenburg Count) and Pat McElraft (Carteret/Jones) are the primary sponsors of this bill; there are 36 co-sponsors, six of whom are women. The bill was assigned last week to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services. A companion bill in the Senate (SB 769) has seven current sponsors, all Republicans, including WNC’s Sen. Ralph Hise, Avery/Haywood/Madison/McDowell/Mitchell/Yancey.
The elimination of one week of the early-voting period across the state is required by HB 658, which passed in the House last week and was forwarded to the Senate. The bill, co-sponsored by Moffitt, has 22 Republican sponsors and no Democrats.
Most scheduled bill hearings in Senate committees have been usurped by budget hearings (HB 200) as the Senate tries to finalize its budget proposal by the end of May. Hearings still scheduled for this week involving WNC legislators include the following:
HB 188 (Taxpayer Bill of Rights): Limits increases in the General Fund budget, reforms the budget process, establishes an Emergency Trust Fund, and amends the N.C. Constitution to establish a General Fund expenditure limit that equals the previous fiscal year’s expenditure limit increased by a percentage rate equaling the fiscal growth factor. WNC co-sponsors: Republicans Frye, Moffitt and West (sponsored by 40 Republicans/one unaffiliated). Hearing on Wednesday at 10 a.m., House Judiciary Subcommittee A.
HB 758 (Establish Arts Education Commission): Based on previous study commission recommendations, an Arts Education Commission of 14 members would be established (four appointed by the governor — six appointed by the speaker of the house (three representatives and three citizens at-large), and four appointed by the president pro tempore (two senators and two citizens at-large) to review, prioritize and recommend implementation of a Comprehensive Arts Education Plan for K-12. Co-sponsors, Democrats Susan Fisher, Buncombe County, and Ray Rapp, Haywood/Madison/Yancey. (Sponsorship of this bill currently comes from all-Democratic ranks with the exception of one of four primary sponsors, Linda Johnson of Cabarrus County.) Hearing on Tuesday at 10 a.m., House Education Committee.
HB 837 (Completion of CPR by Students Required): Amends G.S. 115C-81 to add a requirement that CPR be a component of the standard course of study for high school graduation. Co-sponsor, Rapp. Hearing on Tuesday at 10 a.m., House Education Committee. (One Democrat and one Republican primary sponsor; co-sponsors include two Republicans and seven Democrats.)
by Nelda Holder, contributing editor