2015 LEGISLATIVE WRAP-UP
North Carolina General Assembly Completes Long Session with Great Wins for Social Conservatives
By Dr. Mark Creech, Executive. Director
Christian Action League of North Carolina, Inc.
RALEIGH – North Carolina lawmakers ended a more than eight month session shortly after 4:00 a.m. on Wednesday, September 30th. It was the longest session in at least a decade. A Budget stalemate and extended negotiations on Medicaid reform and economic recruitment incentives were largely the reasons for its length. The General Assembly normally completes its work by early summer.
It’s been said that bad news travels at the speed of light, but good news is slower than molasses. I think this is generally true, but may the good news spread quickly this time. It’s been an exceedingly good year for our efforts. In fact, during my tenure as a registered lobbyist in the North Carolina General Assembly for 16 years, we have never had a year with so many advances as this one.
The Christian Action League’s role is a critical one. Without our presence I believe there would be a huge vacuum, but the real credit must go to lawmakers. There is an excellent group of people in office right now, and we deeply appreciate their commitment to many of the values we represent. We owe them a word of thanks, and when they are back in their districts we should make it a point to tell them.
Some of the bigger wins included new laws to protect the unborn, defend religious liberty, and provide greater opportunities for a private education.
- HB 297 – End Marketing/Sale Unborn Children Body Parts prohibits the use of taxpayer money going to groups like Planned Parenthood that perform abortions, as well as outlawing the sale of baby body parts garnered from an abortion.
- HB 465 – Women and Children’s Protection Act of 2015 extends the wait time for an abortion from 24 to 72 hours, ensuring a woman is provided ample time to consider all of the alternatives to ending the life of her unborn child.
- SB 2 – Magistrates Recusal for Civil Ceremonies allows magistrates and registers of deeds that hold a sincere religious objection to same-sex marriage to opt-out of the performance of civil ceremonies. Before the passage of this legislation, these public officials were facing termination and even criminal prosecution for refusing to violate their consciences.
- Significant increased funding for State Opportunity Scholarships and Special Education Scholarships were included as a part of this year’s budget. HB 97 – 2015 Appropriations Act makes it easier for disabled children and those of lower income families to attend a non-public school. It provides public funds for parents to choose the right educational setting for their children.
Addendum: The State Opportunity Scholarships program originally passed in 2013, but had also been under the cloud of litigation. This year the State Supreme Court ruled the program was constitutional, ending the legal challenge to the scholarships.
Other important wins included new laws closing loopholes for taxing church property, ending a defacto moratorium on the death penalty, stopping ‘revenge porn,’ banning powdered alcohol, and honoring Rev. Billy Graham.
- A religious property tax exemption bill, HB 229 – Church Tax Exemption/Driving Privileges closes loopholes in the tax laws allowing church property to be taxed when in construction and unoccupied. The measure specifically exempts church buildings under construction and the land on which they are being built from local property taxes if the structure is intended to be wholly and exclusively used by its owner for religious purposes upon completion. The legislation also added a provision for a limited driving privilege authorizing a person with a revoked driver’s license to drive to church for worship services.
- HB 774 – Restoring Proper Justice Act removes the obstacles that have produced a nine year defacto moratorium on the death penalty. The new law jump-starts the death penalty in an effort to restore proper justice.
- HB 792 – Privacy/Protection from Revenge Postings makes the egregious practice of “revenge porn” illegal. “Revenge porn” is the nonconsensual disclosure of explicit images for no legitimate purpose that causes immediate, devastating, and in many cases irreversible harm to a person’s life.
- “Palchol” is an alcohol product made available in a pouch that looks and works much like Kool-Aid. It becomes an alcoholic beverage with the addition of water. Also called “powdered alcohol,” a stand-alone bill, HB 290 – Prohibit Powdered Alcohol, passed the House. The measure, however, was later rolled into another bill and passed via HB 909 – ABC Omnibus Legislation.
- HB 540 Billy Graham/National Statuary Hall will result in a statue of Billy Graham posthumously being placed inside the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. The statue will replace the current one of former Gov. Charles B. Aycock.
- A House Resolution, HR 944 – Rev. Billy Graham for Postage Stamp petitions the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee of the United States Postal Service and the Postmaster General of the United States to issue a commemorative stamp honoring the evangelist.
Some of the bills that were beaten back this year were victories almost as significant as the year’s advances. To use a sport’s analogy, not only was our offense successful, but so was much of our defense against the dangerous legislation that was afoot.
The bad legislation beaten back included gambling initiatives, two alcohol measures, the legalization of medicinal marijuana, and grandparents rights legislation that would have superseded parental rights.
- Two measures were filed that would have legalized sweepstakes gambling. HB 922 – Video Sweepstakes Regulation and Taxing would have basically made sweepstakes gaming lawful by licensing, taxing and regulating it. The other, HB 938 – Comprehensive Gaming Reform would have taken a broader approach by establishing a nine member gaming commission to oversee the state lottery, charitable and for-profit bingo, as well as legalize, license and tax sweepstakes. Neither bill was taken up.
- The Senate’s version of the state’s budget provided for an expansion of lottery advertising by 50% and initiated “E-Instant Games,” which are essentially online scratch-off tickets. The proposal was rejected in the final draft of the state budget, HB 97 – 2015 Appropriations Act.
- HB 78 – Enact Medical Cannabis Act would have permitted the sale and possession of marijuana for medical use to patients who qualified. It would have directed the Department of Agriculture to establish a marijuana supply system regulated by rules from the N.C. Medical Care Commission. And, it would have protected persons from criminal, civil, or professional licensure penalties for authorized use of the drug as a medicine. Marijuana is not medicine and so-called medical marijuana is the first step to the legalization of recreational marijuana.
- HB 413 – Expand Grandparents Visitation Rights would have provided for an expansion of grandparents’ visitation rights under existing family law. The bill failed in a House Judiciary Committee. If the measure had succeeded and become law, it would have undermined parental rights.
- HB 909 – ABC Omnibus Legislation included a provision that would have allowed for spirituous liquor tasting events at ABC stores. The provision was ultimately removed from the bill. Lobbyist for spirituous liquor and the North Carolina Association of ABC Boards have been lobbying for liquor tasting events at local ABC stores since 2009. Spirituous liquor tastings at ABC stores would signal a paradigm shift from “control” of liquor sales to the “promotion” of liquor sales.
- HB 278 – Increase Small Brewery Limits would have increased small brewery limits from 25,000 barrels annually to 100,000 without having to use a wholesaler. This legislation was never taken up. It undermines the state’s three-tier system of alcohol control, which works for temperance and shields the public from many possible unsavory industry procedures.
Unfortunately, there were also defeats. The losses seemingly pale in comparison to the successes of this session, but each loss means there is a hole in the wall – people are more vulnerable to the hazards of sin and evil.
Losses included a repeal of the state’s ban on Sunday hunting with a firearm, passage of legislation to allow for the sale of liquor outside of an ABC store, and the failure to pass a Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
- This year, HB 640 – Outdoor Heritage Act, repealed North Carolina’s 145 year old ban on Sunday hunting with a firearm. There were some modifications added, however, that respect churches by prohibiting Sunday hunting from the hours of 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. – times when most rural churches are meeting. The defeat of the bill was the objective, but the modifications did minimize the loss.
- Companion bills to allow liquor distilleries to sell a commemorative bottle of their liquor products to customers that take a tour of their facilities were introduced in both the House and Senate. SB 24 – Liquor Sales – Permitted Distilleries and HB 107 were never taken up. But the legislation was rolled as a provision into HB 909 – Omnibus ABC Legislation with some minor changes. The passage of this measure precipitates the first time since the end of prohibition that liquor will be sold outside of an ABC store. It is also the first crack in the windshield of alcoholic beverage control that can ultimately spread to the privatization of liquor sales.
- Two Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) bills, HB 348 – NC Religious Freedom Restoration Act and its companion SB 550 awaited action by the General Assembly. The bills, however, were not taken up, leaving North Carolinians vulnerable to infringements of their religious liberties. The firestorm surrounding a Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) in Indiana seemed to quell the interest of leadership in both the House and Senate from dealing with it at this time.
The North Carolina General Assembly is not scheduled to reconvene again until Monday, April 25, 2016.
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