In a bit of a shell game last week in the N.C. General Assembly, legislators continued to look for their own approach to the state’s budget deficit while the governor announced new deficit projections had erased $1 billion of the original $3.7 billion shortfall for the coming fiscal year. Meanwhile, the Legislature passed a Balanced Budget Act of 2011 (SB 13) aimed at paring that original $3.7 billion by reducing expenditures for the remainder of this budget year. Specifically, $400 million would be transferred out of various fund allocations such as the economic-incentives pots for Job Development Investment and the Golden Leaf Fund. Gov. Bev Perdue is on record as opposing deductions from the economic-incentives money, so a veto is a possibility.
Another example of moving targets involved the Farmers Freedom Protection Act, introduced to prohibit enforcement of federal statutes regarding food production and packaging in this state — if the foodstuff is produced in and remains inside state borders. (Violation would be a class 1A misdemeanor.) The bill passed its first reading in the House, and it moves forward in juxtaposition to last fall’s bipartisan leadership by the state’s two U.S. senators, Democrat Kay Hagan and Republican Richard Burr, in passing a major food-safety bill in the U.S. Congress. Should the Farmers Freedom bill become state law, it could set the state at odds with provisions of the federal bill and its enforcement, despite Burr-Hagan cooperation on inserting small-farm exemptions in the federal law. Ultimately it could test the constitutional grounds for the concept of nullification — a state’s perceived power to overrule federal law.
One further juxtaposition concerned legislation to amend the N.C. Constitution by adding provisions of the state’s current open-meetings law to the Constitution itself. As this bill was being introduced, adherence to the current law by members of the General Assembly was being challenged because of a closed-door Republican meeting with lobbyists about the pros and cons of legalizing video poker (see News & Observer report). House Speaker Thom Tillis defended the closed-door session as a means of collecting information. Then it was further reported by the N&O that the leader of the session, Republican Mike Stone of Sanford, had video-poker-style machines in his own small grocery store, but removed them last Friday.
More specific to Western North Carolina, legislation moved forward to prohibit the French Broad river-basin rule approved last year by the Environmental Management Commission to change the water-quality designation of Boylston Creek from a Class C tributary to the more restrictive Class C Trout (HB 64), see details below). The creek runs through both Henderson and Transylvania counties; the new designation would mandate 25-foot riparian buffers to mitigate siltation and other water degradation. (A bill to nullify failed to pass in last year’s legislative session, although the effective date of the reclassification was delayed.)
Last week’s bills of interest and WNC legislator sponsorships included the following:
HB 55 (Relief from Incorrect Paternity Determination): Would offer relief from child support order based on finding of nonpaternity as a result of a valid genetic test or other stipulations regarding acknowledgment of paternity. Passed first reading. WNC co-sponsors David Guice, Republican of Brevard and Majority Whip Jonathan Jordan of Jeffersonville.
HB 59 (Sex Offenders Can’t be EMS Personnel): Persons required to register as sex offenders would not be granted EMS credentials nor have credentials renewed.
Passed first reading; referred to Committee on Judiciary, Subcommittee B. WNC sponsors: Reps. Chuck McGrady, Hendersonville Republican, and Phil Haire, Sylva Democrat; co-sponsors Phillip Frye, Republican of Spruce Pine, Guice, Jordan and Ray Rapp, Mars Hills Democrat.
HB 61 (Speaker/Pro Tem Term Limits):
Amend the Constitution to limit the speaker of the house and president pro tempore of the Senate to serving only two general assemblies. Passed first reading; referred to Committee on Judiciary. WNC co-sponsors Frye, Guice, Jordan, Hendersonville Republican Chuck McGrady.
HB 64 (Restore Partisan Judicial Elections): Would return the state’s nonpartisan judicial elections (judges for the Supreme Court, Court of Appeals and the regional/local superior and district courts) to partisan contests. Passed first reading; referred to Committee on Elections. Co-sponsors: Frye and Jordan.
HB 65 (North Carolina Farmers Freedom Protection Act): (See story above.) Passed first reading; referred to Committee on Agriculture. Co-sponsors Frye, Jordan.
HB 87 (Sunshine Amendment): See story above. Filed.
SB 47 (Restore Partisan Judicial Elections): SB 47 (Restore Partisan Judicial Elections): Companion bill to HB 64. Passed first reading; referred to Judiciary I. Co-sponsors Tom Apodaca, Hendersonville Republican; Jim Davis, Franklin Republican, Ralph Hise, Spruce Pine Republican.
SB 62 (Make Up Snow Days with Distance Learning): Would allow local school administrative units to make up snow days with online lessons for students, maximum of five days. Filed.