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Momentous Week at the NCGA: Four Significant Measures, Two Good, Two Bad but Modified, Advance

Story of all four bills and what happened bundled in this one story
By M.H. Cavanaugh
Christian Action League
May 29, 2015

NCGARALEIGH – This was a momentous week in the North Carolina General Assembly with lawmakers approving four significant measures, (1) a bill for magistrates with sincerely held religious beliefs to opt-out of performing same-sex marriages, (2) a bill that changes the waiting period for a woman seeking an abortion from 24 hours to 72 hours, (3) a bill that legalized Sunday hunting with firearms, and, (4) a bill that allows distilleries in the state to sell their products on premises.

“It was an incredibly busy week, with serious issues on the table,” said Dr. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “Two bills, the magistrates and the abortion legislation, were passed and that was good. The two other bills, the Sunday hunting and the alcohol legislation, which also passed were not good in totality, but at least modified in their negative impact,” he said.

Senate Bill 2: Magistrates Recusal for Civil Ceremonies

Thursday, the N.C. House passed by a vote of 67-43, SB 2-Magistrates Recusal of Civil Ceremonies. The legislation is a necessary means for protecting and clarifying the religious liberties of magistrates and register of deeds.

The bill establishes procedures that magistrates may recuse themselves from performing all lawful marriages, based upon a sincerely held religious objection. The same accommodation would be made for assistant register of deeds and deputy register of deeds. The recusal would be for a minimum of six months and would continue until the recusal was rescinded in writing. Officials recusing themselves would not be subject to disciplinary actions or prosecution.

The legislation requires register of deeds to ensure that all qualified applicants for a marriage license are issued one, and each district court judge must ensure that marriages performed by a magistrate are available to the public no less than ten hours a week over at least three business days.

The bill also provides protection against loss of employment and retirement benefits for the magistrates who either resigned or were terminated from their positions between October 6, 2014 (the same day the US Supreme Court refused to take up any of the same sex marriage cases on appeal) and the effective date of the legislation. It also allows those individuals to apply for any vacant position of magistrate.

The legislation was prompted by federal court rulings last year that forced North Carolina to recognize same-sex marriages and begin issuing marriage licenses. That resulted in at least 8 judges resigning their post, after a directive from the state’s Administrative Office of the Courts instructed them that they must perform same-sex marriage ceremonies, regardless of their religious objections, or face disciplinary action, even prosecution.

During debate on the House floor, Rep. Dean Arp (R-Union), primary sponsor of the bill argued the legislation provides “a delicate balance” that respects a person’s religious convictions but also the law of the land. Others, such as Rep. Garland Pierce (D-Scotland) argued that the legislation was “a form of discrimination” against the LGBT community.

Rep, Larry Pittman (R-Cabarrus), however, demonstrably declared that the proposed law was to protect government officials of faith from being “traitors against the kingdom of God” by being forced to take part in something they considered “perverted and morally unconscionable.” He added, “God created and defined marriage as between a man and a woman, and no country and no government, no court, no government entity, I believe, has the right to change it or to coerce anyone to disobey God in regard to it…We need to stop worrying about what other nations or corporations think of us or where we stand and what our reputation is with them, and get back to caring what our reputation is in the sight of God.”

GavelOnly a few hours after the legislation’s passing, Governor Pat McCrory vetoed SB 2. In a statement provided to the press, the Governor said, “I recognize that, for many North Carolinians, including myself, opinions on same-sex marriage come from sincerely held religious beliefs that marriage is between a man and a woman. However, we are a nation and a state of laws. Whether it is the president, governor, mayor, a law enforcement officer or magistrate, no public official who voluntarily swears to support and defend the Constitution and to discharge all duties of their office should be exempt from upholding that oath.”

The N.C. Senate passed the bill with enough votes for an override, but the House vote was short of the 72 needed for an override.

Dr. Creech, who is usually known for his measured responses, acknowledged that he found McCrory’s response infuriating. In a Facebook post, he wrote, “I say this to all and without apology; such a stance by a Republican Governor is especially egregious. It can only be prompted by cowardice or treason to religious liberty. Religious freedom is our first Constitutional right.”

Dr. Creech also said that both the House and Senate should take steps to secure an override of the Governor’s exceedingly flawed objection.

House Bill 465: Women and Children’s Protection Act of 2015

Thursday, the state Senate on its second reading voted in favor of major pro-life legislation, HB 465 – Women and Children’s Protection Act of 2015 by a 31-15 margin. Third and final reading of the bill is scheduled for Monday evening, June 1.

The key component of the measure increases the waiting period for an abortion from 24 hours to 72.

A Proposed Committee Substitute (PCS) was heard and approved by the Senate Judiciary II Committee on Wednesday. The PCS, which included the key component of the bill passed by the House, added new provisions considered by the full Senate on Thursday. One provision requires annual inspections by DHHS of clinics where abortions are performed. A second mandates the results of such inspections be published on both the DHHS and “Woman’s Right to Know Act” web sites. A third prohibits an abortion clinic from employing anyone less than 18 years old. A fourth requires that physicians who perform abortions other than in a medical emergency to be board certified or certifiable on obstetrics or gynecology.

PregnantDebate on the Senate floor was long and heated at times.

Sen. Terry Van Duyn (D- Buncombe) said the bill was “another attempt by the legislature to play doctor.” Sen. Erica Smith-Ingraham (D-Bertie) argued, “We have a brain, we have bodies. You have no ability to understand this decision made by women about their bodies. It is a very difficult decision…It is insulting to say that I cannot make up my mind and I need 72 hours to consider my options.”

But Sen. Joyce Krawiec (R-Forsyth) responded that the waiting period was not unreasonable. She said that many times women who get abortions later deeply regret it.  She added that there is a three day right for refinancing a car. There is a three day right of rescission when writing a contract to sell a house. Krawiec said true health care takes care of the mother and the child and doesn’t leave the child a victim. She contended something as momentous as a decision to terminate a pregnancy should at least be done with equal concern for decisions of considerably less import.

Assuming the measure passes on Monday, the bill will be returned to the House for concurrence.

House Bill 640 – Outdoor Heritage Act

Thursday, the N.C. Senate passed by a margin of 37-13, HB 640 – Outdoor Heritage Act. Although the legislation directs the Wildlife Resources Commission (WRC) to study the establishment of the North Carolina Outdoor Heritage Trust Fund, establishes an Outdoor Heritage Advisory Council, creates a number of WRC studies and makes some changes to WRC laws, the center piece of the legislation repeals North Carolina’s 145 year old Sunday hunting ban with firearms.

Rev. Mark Creech said that the legislation was one of the hardest measures to address in his 16 year tenure as the League’s director. He said, “There are so many unavoidable wrong-headed perceptions for someone like me who would oppose it. ‘You’re trying to impose you’re religion on us. You’re not recognizing separation of church and state. You’re picking on hunters. Even, you’re probably an animal rights extremist or believe something is wrong with hunting,’ people say. All of these are misperceptions of the truth.”

Wednesday, the Senate Agriculture and Environment Committee took up a Proposed Committee Substitute (PCS) of the bill that added a provision prohibiting Sunday hunting before noon, the time after which most churches conclude their services.

“I was thankful for this one change,” said Dr. Creech. “It does modify the impact of the measure to some degree.”

Rep. Jimmy Dixon (R-Duplin) the bill’s primary sponsor argued that the legislation seeks to encourage young people to participate in outdoor activities such as camping, hiking, and fishing.

When testifying before the Senate Agriculture and Environment Committee, Dixon held up his hands as if he were playing the controls of a video game, arguing that kids needed to do less of that kind of thing and enjoy the outdoors more. “A little bit of dirt under the fingernails, a little bit of dirt from the outdoors on the soles of their shoes might combat some of the dirt they’re putting into their minds with the click of a mouse.”

Dr. Creech told the committee, “It’s easy to get lost in the weeds of this debate. But I want to assure you that neither I, nor the Christian Action League, is so much concerned about a law or laws that restrict action in a free society as we are in promoting the benefits that accrue from the tradition of a Christian Sabbath. You know, the Dutch used to call the day ‘God’s Dyke’ – a bulwark against the insidious inroads of secularism, materialism, and even paganism.”

Dr. Creech added, “Although we understand there are already dozens of other activities now legally occurring on the Lord’s Day. It has been the concern of the League that the legalization of Sunday hunting is just one more distraction to weaken the value of the day to our culture.”

Sunday HuntingDuring the hearing of HB 640 on the Senate floor, Sen. Erica Smith-Ingraham (D-Bertie) ran an amendment that would have allowed counties to choose for themselves whether they wanted to allow for Sunday hunting, rather than be forced to accept it for a term of two years, and, then opt out if they chose. That measure failed by a vote of 29-18.

Some Senate members expressed opposition to the bill because they felt the measure still impaired the serenity and safety of people that wanted to stroll through the woods on Sundays. Others opposed it for religious reasons.

But Sen. Brent Jackson objected, saying, “You cannot tie this bill to your religious beliefs.” His argument was that there were already so many things people were permitted to do on Sundays that it made the religious aspect irrelevant.

However, Dr. Creech said, “If we cannot tie upholding a ban on Sunday hunting to our religious beliefs because there are currently so many ways people don’t observe the Christian Sabbath, then why are we upholding bans on ‘bearing false witness’? – perjury in court – why are we upholding bans on stealing? – Larceny, petty theft, etc. – why are we upholding bans on price gouging, etc.? – all these bans are derived from the Ten Commandments that prohibit forms of lying, stealing, and covetousness. There are thousands of ways these commands of God are broken every day, but we don’t set them aside. I think the problem is that as a society we have almost totally lost our understanding of the cultural benefit of laws that shore-up the recognition of the 4th commandment’s principle of rest, family, and worship.”

The bill now moves back to the House for concurrence. The National Rifle Association has sent out an alert to its members urging them to press House members not to concur with the Senate change that hunting be prohibited until after 12:00. They say it guts the bill.

House Bill 909 – ABC Omnibus Legislation

Thursday, the N.C. Senate passed by a vote of 40-8, giving tentative approval to HB 909 – ABC Omnibus Legislation.

The bill originally dealt with an innocuous alcohol measure that allowed for the sale of antique spirituous liquors. That measure and others that were mostly technical in nature, plus a bill banning powdered alcohol, which the Christian Action League strongly supported, were rolled into HB 909. However, the Senate also included companion bills on the House side that it wanted that the ABC Chairman, Rep. Jamie Boles (R-Moore) blocked from hearing because of their egregious nature.

In total, as an omnibus bill, Sen. Rick Gunn (R-Alamance), Chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, rolled into HB 909, nine different bills.

One of the bills originally included would have allowed for liquor tasting events at ABC stores. Gunn removed that provision before the bill’s hearing by the Senate Commerce Committee, last Thursday, May 21. “That change, thank God, was at least one revision for which we can be glad,” said Dr. Creech.

However, along with the technical changes that remained in the bill, two provisions were bad alcohol policy, one of which the League focused its attention on was especially bad.

Section 4 of HB 909 allows distilleries in the state to sell bottles of liquor manufactured at the distillery to visitors that tour their premises for off premises consumption.

Although the legislation limits the sale to no more than one bottle, marked with a stamp that reads, “North Carolina Distillery Tour Commemorative Spirit,” Dr. Creech said the change in law would be the first time in North Carolina history any bottle of spirituous liquor would be sold outside of a local ABC store.

AlcoholDr. Creech said, “By allowing the sale of spirits at a distillery, no matter the amount, lawmakers are allowing things foreign to North Carolina’s concept of liquor sales – a concept validated for decades at every local option alcohol referenda for an ABC store – and, something the voters never agreed to. This change in the law permits the promotion of liquor and the pursuit of profit as new dynamics, traditionally rejected, and they are opening the door for the sale of spirituous liquor they will be hard pressed to deny other retailers who will likely appeal for the same privilege in the future.”

Dr. Creech said the current ABC system works well, but to tinker with it as lawmakers have done with the distilleries provision compromises its strength at regulation and control.

Section 8 of HB 909, which the League also opposes, allows the ABC Commission to issue a guest room cabinet permit to 18 Hole Golf Courses around the state where ABC stores have been established, but in which the sale of mixed beverages have not been approved.  This section of the bill is clearly a circumvention of local alcohol elections.

Third reading of HB 909 is scheduled for Monday evening, June 1. Afterward, the bill will be sent back to the House for either an up or down concurrence vote. If the House votes not to concur, the differences between the two chambers would be worked out in a Conference Committee.