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2009 Legislative Wrap-up

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Legislative Wrap-Up for 2009

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RALEIGH — Lawmakers adjourned the long-session of the 2009 North Carolina General Assembly on Tuesday. A huge budget deficit, a liberal leadership stronghold and a major push for homosexual rights made this legislative session a tough one for conservative evangelical Christians in Raleigh. Nonetheless, the Christian Action League was blessed to be a part of a historic victory — the passage of the smoking ban — and a number of smaller victories as bad bills were defeated or at least their effects mitigated by CAL-supported amendments.

Among the biggest disappointments this year were the passing of the pro-homosexual School Violence Prevention Act, the failure of lawmakers to adopt the Defense of Marriage Act, and their decision to promote Comprehensive Sex Ed in the public schools, as well as a number of bills making beverage alcohol more accessible.

Even so, the Christian Action League was pleased to be a part of efforts that kept Sunday hunting, Sunday liquor sales and smoke-filled hookah bars at bay. CAL lobbied against medical marijuana and fought a video poker comeback that could become an even bigger battle next session.

The following is a look at the many the bills the CAL addressed — either to support, amend or defeat — during the 2009 Legislative Session. 

Family

FamilySenate Bill 272/House Bill 361 — Defense of Marriage Act. Despite strong bipartisan support from lawmakers and polls showing nearly 3 out of 4 North Carolinians would vote to amend the State’s Constitution to protect marriage as between “one man and one woman,” the Tar Heel state remains the only one in the Southeast without this legal protection. This bill would have let voters decide in November whether to add an amendment to reaffirm the definition of marriage and strengthen the state against legal attacks from same-sex couples or others trying to redefine the sacred institution. Some 4,000 to 5,000 people gathered on the Halifax Mall at the Legislative Building during a cold and snowy day in March to show their support for the measure, but as in years past, House and Senate leaders ignored the will of the people and refused to allow the bill to be considered.

House Bill 88 — Healthy Youth Act. What began as a bill that would supplant Abstinence Until Marriage sex education as the standard for North Carolina’s public schools, evolved into a multi-track program focusing on parental choice and then ended up as a compromise where seventh-through ninth-graders will receive the AUM curriculum first and then the CSE program, unless parents opt them out of CSE. The controversial Comprehensive Sex Ed component does not teach risk elimination through abstinence, but instead takes a “safe sex,” risk reduction approach including instruction on all FDA-approved methods of contraception from condoms to morning-after pills. “This bill started out horrible and then wound-up as a compromise,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “We celebrate the fact that Abstinence Until Marriage was saved as the state’s standard for every child and will now also be taught in some school systems that were only providing CSE. As for the CSE track, what is often termed as the advanced curriculum, the Christian Action League urges parents to opt their children out.”

House Bill 590 — Study Grandparents’ Visitation Rights. This bill, which could have interfered with parents’ rights to raise their children, failed in the House Judiciary III Committee. However, it was cleverly reinserted into HB 945 – The Studies Act of 2009, which authorizes that a study on grandparent’s rights may be done, but does not require one. During the interim between the end of the long-session and the beginning of the short session of May 2010, the CAL will diligently watch to see if any study is initiated.

House Bill 1110 — Clarify/Alienation of Affection/Criminal Conversation. This bill, which passed in early July, removes a valuable protection for marriage by repealing a provision in North Carolina law that allows a married person that has separated from his or her spouse to sue a third party for interfering in the marriage during the separation period.

House Bill 1463 — Expand Access/Confidential Intermediaries. This bill, which would expand the Confidential Intermediary process in adoptions, would break a promise to birth mothers and make abortion more appealing for some. The bill — which would allow siblings and half siblings of adult adoptees and other family members of deceased biological parents and deceased adoptees, to have their identifying information released, even if the deceased biological parent or deceased adoptee never consented — has been calendared for May 2010.

Gay Rights

Gay RightsSenate Bill 526 – School Violence Prevention Act Certainly the worst bill of the session, this pro-homosexual law injected “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” into N.C. General Statutes for the first time. “No student should be bullied anywhere at anytime. And if we thought this bullying bill would help, we’d be rejoicing,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “Instead it will serve only to open the door to gay marriage a little wider by providing legal precedence to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered persons as specially protected categories.”  After a hard fought battle, the bill passed 58-57 when some legislators who opposed the measure changed their vote at the last minute under pressure from the House leadership or were persuaded to “take a walk” during the vote. Lawmakers who truly wanted to protect children from bullies, rather than advance the homosexual agenda, rejected this bill in favor of House Bill 776 No Bullying Anyone at Public Schools, which had 61 sponsors but couldn’t get a hearing in the House Education Committee.

The Christian Action League worked to keep egregious language similar to that in the Bullying Bill out of House Bill 721 — Carrboro/Housing Discrimination. “Sexual orientation”, “gender identification”, and “gender expression” were removed from the first edition of the bill.

House Bill 100 — Conform State Law to Lawrence v. Texas. This bill would have adjusted North Carolina’s statutes to the U.S. Supreme Court’s outrageous 2003 decision in Lawrence v. Texas, which ruled in favor of a constitutionally protected right for sodomy. Although the High Court ruling is the law of the land, changing the statutes would leave the state with pro-sodomy laws when the Court might reverse itself or limit the scope of its decision. This is definitely a bill the Christian Action League was glad to see sent to the House Rules Committee to die a quiet death. It is also one that should be kept on the radar as it will likely be revived during another session.

Church

Senate Bill 7 — Allow Hunting on Sunday. This bill would have repealed North Carolina’s 140-year-old prohibition on Sunday hunting. It was dropped in the Senate Judiciary II committee after facing opposition from hunting dog clubs, as well as the North Carolina Family Policy Council and the CAL.

Right to Life

Unborn BabySenate Bill 13 – Injury to Pregnant Woman/Penalty A bill that would raise the penalty for injuring a pregnant mother remained in the Senate Judiciary I Committee. Although certainly well-intentioned, the law is not a two-victim bill and as such, would do nothing to recognize the unborn child. Instead, the Christian Action League supported HB 890 – Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which received a serial Committee referral (3 Committees) in the House and was never allowed a hearing.

House Bill 168 — “Choose Life” Special Plate. Drivers can broadcast their support for some 120 causes in North Carolina, but not for something as basic as the right to life. As in five legislative attempts in the past, this bill would have legalized a “Choose Life” license plate and raise funds for agencies that offer free pregnancy services and do not promote abortion. The measure was given a serial Committee referral (3 Committees) and was never allowed to be considered.

Senate Bill 595/House Bill 1114 — Advanced Directives on Drivers License. This legislation, supported by the CAL, would require that licenses issued by the DMV include, alongside the name, photo and other pertinent information a “living will designation” to identify those that have a living will on file in the Secretary of State’s Advance Healthcare Directive Registry. The bill passed the Senate (SB 595) and was sent to the House, but then referred to the House Judiciary I Committee where it was never taken up for consideration.

Human Rights

Senate Bill 353 – NC Human Trafficking Commission. The Christian Action League supported this bill which would have helped battle one of the fastest-growing crimes in the world. The bill would have created the N.C. Human Trafficking Commission to explore ways the crime is occurring in North Carolina, its links to international and domestic trafficking and what policies, procedures or laws would help eradicate the problem. At session’s end, the bill remained in the Senate Rules Committee.

Gambling

 

GamblingHouse Bill 1537 — The Video Gaming Entertainment Act. Though it never made it out of the House Judiciary II Committee, this bill began picking up steam during the last few weeks of the session and is sure to show up again. The law would welcome back video poker in the state with no payout limits and put it under the control of the Department of Revenue as a means to raise a projected $480 million for state coffers by taking 20 percent of the gaming proceeds. With endorsements from the Black Legislative Caucus and the State Employees Association of North Carolina, video poker proponents began running television ads and other promotions. “Instead of bringing back this industry that ensnares North Carolina’s citizens and seeks to maintain the government off of people’s weaknesses, we need to support efforts to shore up the video poker ban that passed three years ago,” said the Rev. Creech. House Bill 1277 and Senate Bill 971, both of which would have closed a loophole in the ban, never made it out of their respective committees. A Wake County Superior Court ruling against the video poker ban is expected to be heard by the Court of Appeals soon, where it is hoped the ruling will be overturned.

Drugs

House Bill 1380 — Medical Marijuana Act — This bill would open the door for hundreds or even thousands of North Carolinians to begin growing and using marijuana to treat everything from HIV and AIDS to severe migraines, muscle spasms or any other “serious medical or mental condition” as long as it is recommended by a doctor. Further, the Medical Marijuana Act would invite residents of the state to become producers and dispensers of the illegal drug by meeting minimal criteria and paying a licensing fee. This bill, which had a serial committee referral (3 committees) did not come out of any committee, but will continue to be promoted by those who hope to ultimately legalize marijuana.

Tobacco

No SmokingHouse Bill 2 — Prohibit Smoking in Certain Public Places. This historic legislation bans smoking in restaurants and bars in North Carolina beginning January 2, 2010. Although the initial goal to protect all workers from second hand smoke in places of employment was not met in this bill, health proponents were pleased to get such a comprehensive state-wide smoking ban passed, despite the exceedingly strong opposition from North Carolina’s tobacco lobby.

H.R. 1256 – The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. A new federal law, which puts tobacco products under the control of the Food and Drug Administration, was another victory in the tobacco arena. The CAL lobbied for this bill as part of the national organization, Faith United Against Tobacco. The Christian Action League was recognized for its efforts in support of tobacco cessation legislation on both the state and national levels by the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, Faith United Against Tobacco, and the North Carolina Alliance for Health.

Senate Bill 884 — Hookah Bar Exemption (withdrawn, no text available). This bill, which would have exempted hookah bars from the smoking ban that passed in House Bill 2, was pulled from the House calendar after passing both the House Ways and Means and Judiciary II committees. The CAL was not only concerned about the threat the measure posed to HB 2, but also concerned that half of the hookah establishments in the state sold alcohol and two had been sited for Alcohol Law Enforcement violations. When an amendment was added in the Ways and Means committee that was later removed in a Proposed Committee Substitute, but put back in the Judiciary II committee, requiring hookah establishments selling alcohol not to admit patrons under the age of 21, supporters of the legislation withdrew it from consideration.

Alcohol

AlcoholHouse Bill 1228/Senate Bill 6 — ABC Rules/Private Clubs. With the passing of this legislation (HB 1228), lawmakers removed a key distinction between restaurants and bars, paving the way for more of the latter. Until now, in order to avoid the 70/30 alcohol-to-food ratio imposed on restaurants, private clubs have had to enforce a three-day waiting period for membership. This wait, bill supporters argued, encumbered business in resort areas where tourists or military personnel didn’t have time to wait for their memberships to kick in before entering a private club and enjoying the bar. But repealing the waiting period requirement now places private clubs on the same footing as restaurants, without the imposition of the alcohol–to–food ratio. Already, restaurateurs are calling the law unfair, saying it puts them at a competitive disadvantage to private clubs. They plan to push for their food sales requirement to be eliminated. “This legislation will do more to undermine the state’s control of alcohol sales than any bill we’ve seen in a long time,” said the Rev. Creech. “Legislators have set the stage for a proliferation of bars across North Carolina.”

Senate Bill 988 — Spirituous Liquor Tasting at ABC Stores. This bill, which would have allowed liquor tasting events at Alcoholic Beverage Control stores, was not approved in the Senate Commerce Committee.

Senate Bill 68 — No New ABC Stores within 1,000 Feet of a School or Church. The Christian Action League supported and was delighted at the passage of this legislation. The bill’s title essentially describes its requirement – that no new Alcoholic Beverage Control stores be established within 1,000 feet of a school or a church.The only negative factor about this bill,” said executive director, Rev. Mark Creech, “is that it is a local bill, specific to Guilford County and doesn’t apply to the entire state.” The bill, however, does set a precedence providing a good platform from which to push for state-wide legislation in the future.

House Bill 186 — Local Government Objections to ABC Stores. This bill, which passed in the House with only one vote in the negative and a unanimous decision in the Senate, allows for more public input on an ABC store’s location. “The belief that a community should have more control over its destiny with respect to alcohol sales is a longstanding contention of the Christian Action League,” said Rev. Creech.

Senate Bill 921 — ABC Board Sunday Sales/Local Option. This bill, which may return, would have allowed for ABC stores to open their doors on Sunday, the Lord’s Day. Studies have linked Sunday sales with more alcohol-related traffic accidents and more alcohol treatment center admissions. Eliminating the only 24-hour break in the liquor sales cycle would bring more binge-drinking and take an even higher toll on families. Fortunately, this bill was never taken up by the Senate Commerce Committee.

Senate Bill 839/House Bill 768 — Modernization of the ABC System. Although this bill included a number of positive or at least innocuous provisions for the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission, it would have also brought with it privatized liquor sales by allowing a local ABC Board to contract with a person or business to operate a retail outlet. The Christian Action League has long fought against privatized liquor sales and will continue to do so. Neither of these bills won approval from their respective committees.

House Bill 1017 — Increase Small Brewery Limits. Largely being pushed by a Greensboro brewery (Red Oak), this measure would have allowed small breweries to increase direct distribution from 25,000 to 60,000 barrels a year. The bill, which would have undermined North Carolina’s three-tiered system of alcohol control, did not win support in the ABC Committee.

House Bill 1595 — Malt Beverage Special Permit. Another win for the alcohol industry, this new law will allow for beer tasting events in grocery stores, shopping malls and other places frequented by youth. The law will treat malt beverages essentially the way it treats wine in this regard, despite the fact that beer is much more often abused and the “drug of choice” for underage drinkers.

House Bill 667 — Viticulture/Enology Act. This bill started out as a law to allow wineries to sell wine other than on their own premises – regardless of the results of an alcohol referendum. Instead, a committee substitute, which passed with little difficulty, allowed wineries to have one additional satellite location in their counties and Sunday sales in certain cases. It also gives colleges and universities with a viticulture/enology course permission to sell wine at an off-campus location. A more obscure part of the bill amends the definition of a Sports Club to include certain Equestrian Centers. The Christian Action League has argued that providing special permits like those of Sports Clubs, without requiring the results of an alcohol referendum is circumvention o a community’s right to choose by the ballot box whether there will be any alcohol sales or in what form.

House Bill 1579 — Increase Alcohol Taxes. The Christian Action League supported this bill to increase taxes on beer, wine, and spirituous liquors and send the revenue collected to a Risk Behavior Fund to battle underage drinking. Although the bill had a double serial Committee referral and did not get out of the Health Committee, the Legislature did wind up increasing alcohol taxes in Senate Bill 202 – Appropriations Act of 2009, but not earmarking funds for alcohol treatment or prevention efforts. The increases were:  8.533 cents per gallon (53.177 cents to 61.71 cents) on malt beverages; 5.34 cents per liter (21 cents to 26.34 cents) on unfortified wine; 5.34 cents per liter (24 cents to 29.34 cents) on fortified wine; and 5 percent (25 percent to 30 percent) on liquor.