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Legislative Wrap-Up 2014

The Short Session
Christian Action League
August 28, 2014

North CarolinaRALEIGH — Court rulings on prayer, suits filed against the state’s marriage amendment, and a community’s battle to keep out a planned casino were among a number of issues garnering the attention of the Christian Action League this year, even as the conservative, evangelical organization lobbied lawmakers to engage legislative issues from a biblical worldview.

“Although the number of laws dealt with during the so-called short session is always fewer than in alternate years, we should never underestimate the importance of what goes on in the General Assembly,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, the League’s executive director. “While we’ve spent a great deal of time monitoring issues in the courts and in communities, we’ve also helped drive some important legislation and worked with lawmakers to keep some bad bills from becoming law.”

The CAL pushed for lawmakers to nix a plan to tie teacher pay raises to lottery funds, dealt with several alcohol measures, promoted religious freedom bills and monitored and discouraged a number of other proposals as they were in committee.

Dr. Creech cited the success of two religious liberty bills, both of which deal with education, as definite cause for celebration.

“One bill clarifies the rights of students and teachers in public schools from kindergarten through 12th grade to express their faith, while the other addresses the freedoms student organizations should have on our university campuses,” Dr. Creech explained. “These are not new liberties, but because of the growing hostility toward religion in the public square, it has become necessary to spell out what used to be obvious. Thankfully, our lawmakers are willing to put forward this kind of clarifying legislation.”

Another concern this year came with North Carolina Attorney General, Roy Cooper’s announcement that he would no longer defend the state’s constitutional marriage protection amendment. Cooper’s announcement came less than two hours after the federal 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Virginia’s marriage amendment as unconstitutional.

“I believe Cooper’s decision not to defend our state’s constitution is an impeachable offense”, said Rev. Creech. “However, we anticipated this move by him last year and worked with the North Carolina General Assembly’s leadership to get legislation passed allowing the Speaker of the House and President Pro-Tempore of the Senate to intervene in court cases to defend our state’s constitution, more specifically, our state’s marriage protection amendment.

In fact, in passing the budget just as this year’s short session was coming to a close, the General Assembly included a $300,000 cut from the Attorney General’s budget and the creation of a new $300,000 litigation fund.

Dr. Creech said the financial shift could signal legislative leaders’ intent to intervene since Cooper has announced he will not fight attempts to legalize same-sex marriage. In fact, the Attorney General has made it clear that he personally believes same-sex marriage should be legalized and North Carolina’s marriage amendment is unconstitutional.

“I am confident that the leadership of the North Carolina General Assembly will intervene at the appropriate time,” said Rev. Creech.

As always, the CAL dealt with a number of alcohol bills this session.

“Alcohol control has always been a signature issue for us and remains so,” Dr. Creech said. “Numerous bills regarding alcohol were put forward, as there is always a push from the industry to grow sales, but we narrowed our focus to just a handful this session we felt should be addressed to maintain public health and safety,” he added.

Alcohol opponents in two counties of the state requested help from the CAL to battle alcohol referenda and did so successfully. Bladen County voters defeated malt beverage sales, 54 to 46 percent and wine sales, 53 to 47 percent, while Sampson County gave a more resounding “no,” to malt beverage and wine sales, voting them down 63 to 37 percent.

The following is a list of bills the League views as significant during the short session:

Religious Liberty

Religious LibertyS 719 — Student Organizations/Rights and Recognition: This new law will ensure that student organizations at North Carolina public colleges and universities will be able to determine their own core missions, choose leaders and settle internal disputes without fear that administrators who oppose their causes will shut them down. The bill, supported by the CAL, was passed by the House and Senate and sent to the Governor on June 20. PASSED

S 370 — Respect for Student Prayer/Religious Activity: Seeking to clarify the fact that neither students nor school personnel shed their First Amendment freedoms at the school-house door, lawmakers passed this law that highlights that religious speech should be treated no differently from non-religious speech in public school, confirms that students can openly discuss faith related issues or reference their religion via classroom or homework assignments without fear of being given a lower grade should their beliefs contradict with those of a teacher and solidifies students’ rights to pray and to assemble for religious reasons, again affirming that a faith-based club should have access to the same facilities and benefits as secular groups. Additionally, the law includes a grievance process for students who believe their rights have been violated. The bill, for which the CAL supported and advocated, passed both the House and Senate, and on June 19, was signed by the Governor. PASSED

Elections

H 1267 — Everette Harris Act: Named for the father of the Rev. Mark Harris, pastor of First Baptist of Charlotte, this bill would make it clear that if an individual is able and qualified and registered to vote and followed through to exercise his right to vote, that vote would count even if the person died between the time he cast the ballot and when the canvass was held. Everette Harris voted early for his son, Mark Harris, a U.S. Senate candidate, mailing in an absentee ballot. His vote, however, was thrown out on a challenge because he passed away before Election Day. The bill was approved by the House but not taken up by the Senate. PASSED HOUSE, NOT TAKEN UP BY THE SENATE, LEGISLATION FAILED

Gay Rights

Gay MarriageS 793 — Charter School Modifications: Aimed at tweaking a number of charter school rules and regulations, this bill is significant for what it doesn’t include — language giving those with alternative “sexual orientations” extra protection under the law. Pro-homosexual forces tried to get lawmakers to use the bill as a vehicle to establish “sexual orientation and gender identity” as protected classes. But the CAL and a number of concerned lawmakers argued against the change pointing out the variety of behaviors often considered orientations that would not be welcome in a school setting. The bill clarifies how charter schools can expand and which of their records are public, among a number of other provisions. The language dealing with gender identity and sexual orientation was removed, and the bill passed the General Assembly in late July. PASSED WITHOUT BAD LANGUAGE

Alcohol Control

AlcoholH 842 — Study of Spirituous Liquor Sales-Distillery: This bill was written to study the impact of allowing distilleries in the state to sell their products after patrons have participated in a tour of their establishments, but industry lobbyists are pushing lawmakers to skip the study and simply allow distilleries to start selling their products onsite. Such a measure would set a dangerous precedent by allowing the sale of liquor outside ABC stores, a practice that would also undermine local option alcohol referenda and the ABC system’s role of control. PASSED HOUSE, NOT TAKEN UP BY THE SENATE, LEGISLATION FAILED

H 1156 — Spirituous Liquor Tastings/City of Asheville: Although it may sound limited in scope, this bill, which would allow up to three liquor tasting events per week at Asheville area ABC stores, would signal an egregious paradigm shift in the function of Alcoholic Beverage Control, allying the agency with the liquor industry and making sales, rather than regulation, the focus. Because alcohol is considered a trade and the state’s constitution forbids lawmakers from enacting legislation that impacts local trade, this local proposal is arguably unconstitutional. The CAL expressed strong opposition to this measure. LEGISLATION NEVER TAKEN UP IN COMMITTEE, FAILED

H 1138 — ABC Permits/Pubs: The measure would create a new “pub” category within ABC to allow the Commission to permit alcohol sales by for-profit establishments operated solely for social or recreational purposes and large enough for up to 150 people. Currently, for an establishment to qualify to sell mixed beverages it must meet the criteria for a restaurant. It must have a kitchen and inside dining area that seats at least 36. Furthermore, its sales from food and non-alcoholic beverages must make up at least 30 percent of total gross receipts. The CAL’s concern with this bill is that it would allow for the first time in North Carolina history an establishment which is solely for the purpose of selling alcohol. Furthermore, the idea of having pubs has never been taken up in any alcohol referenda in the state. To allow for this new category would circumvent the right of the people to vote on whether they want such establishments in their communities. “When people considered a liquor-by-the-drink referendum, pubs — bars with no required food sales or really any significant limitations — were never part of the equation,” Dr. Creech explained. This bill was assigned to the House Committee on Commerce and Job Development’s Subcommittee on Alcoholic Beverage Control. The measure was never taken up by the Committee. FAILED

S 734 — Regulatory Reform Act of 2014: Unfortunately, lawmakers approved this bill, which included an egregious alcohol provision, just before the session ended. Section 17 of the 47-page bill allows community colleges that have classes in brewing malt beverages to sell beer made in class. Not only can the colleges hold six special events a year and sell malt beverages at their campuses and at least one other location, they can sell to retailers and wholesalers. Despite strong arguments on the House floor from Rep. Edgar Starnes (R-Caldwell) the conference committee report on this measure passed by a wide margin. Since that day, the CAL has talked with authorities at the N.C. Community College System and has been assured that community colleges will not take advantage of the recently passed law and plunge headlong into creating new beer brands and that the system would support a bill next session to narrow the language. PASSED