Meth Labs Bill, Electoral Freedom Act, Founding Principles Act, Grandparent’s Visitation Rights, Continuous Alcohol Monitoring, Pro-Life Bills, Cherokee ABC Law
By Luanne Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
Late night sessions and impassioned debate during “crossover” marked a week in the General Assembly that saw two important pro-life bills win House approval as well as movement on a number of other bills of interest to the Christian Action League.
H 12, Stop Methamphetamine Labs
H 12, which would increase the monitoring of the sale of pseudoephedrine products in an effort to reduce methamphetamine production in North Carolina, passed the House 108 to 7. The bill would require retailers who sell any of some 15 pseudoephedrine-containing medicines to enter purchaser information into an electronic data base which would track purchases across a network and issue a stop alert if the purchaser was about to exceed the quantity limits already established in state law. Already buyers of such products have to show an ID and sign a log. In addition, the bill passed Wednesday would have the Legislative Commission on Methamphetamine Abuse, established in 2005, to study the bill’s effects on the number of meth labs discovered across the state, the potential cost of making the pseudoephedrine drugs obtainable by prescription only and to report back to the 2013 General Assembly.
Bill sponsor Rep. Craig Horn (R-Union) would much rather have seen the House go ahead and make pseudoephedrine a Schedule III controlled substance, but the compromise bill resulted from an amendment in committee suggested by Rep. Justin Burr (R-Stanly) and supported by many lawmakers who apparently feared that more strictly limiting the medicines would inconvenience patients or create additional costs for health plans that could be required to cover doctor’s visits if patients were forced to obtain prescriptions.
Horn told fellow lawmakers that it is estimated that some 70 percent of pseudoephedrine purchased in the state is used in the production of meth. He said more than 400 labs were found in the state last year and that neither the federal nor the state governments have funds to clean up the labs, which are highly toxic and explosive.
“It seems to me the choice is between inconvenience for a lot of people and death and destruction for others. I think this is pretty obvious,” said Rep. Bill Cook (R-Beaufort).
A law to make it easier for small political parties to find a place on the North Carolina ballot passed the House, 66 to 50, Tuesday and is headed to the Senate.
The Electoral Freedom Act of 2011, H 32, would lower the number of required signatures that a group must obtain to have a candidate listed on the ballot from 2 percent of the total number of voters in the last election to .25 percent of registered and qualified voters, dropping the threshold from roughly 85,000 to 10,000 signatures. The party could stay on the ballot for the next election provided its candidate for Governor, Council of State or President received at least .25 percent of the entire vote cast in one of those races.
The bill would also allow parties with a membership fewer than 10 percent of registered voters to opt out of the primary system and choose their candidate via a convention. If they do choose to hold a primary, there would be no opportunity for a run-off as the winner would be determined by a plurality.
“The Christian Action League supports greater freedom for North Carolina’s electoral process,” said Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “There are also many wonderful Christian supporters of the League who are very much a part of the political process and members of the Constitution party. They want to see this legislation passed.”
Primary sponsors of the legislation — Rep. Stephen LaRoque (R-Greene), Rep. Glen Bradley (R-Franklin), Rep. Paul Luebke (D-Durham) and Rep. Jean Farmer-Butterfield (D-Edgecombe) — told fellow lawmakers that it was time to loosen North Carolina’s election laws, currently the second most restrictive in the nation. Promoted by the Free the Vote Coalition, the bill has a companion in the Senate filed by Senators Andrew Brock (R-Davie) and Eleanor Kinnaird (D-Orange).
Responding to surveys that show that too many Tar Heel students leave school knowing very little about their nation’s founding principles, the N.C. House on Wednesday passed a bill to require high school students to study ideas found in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Federalist Papers and the writings of the Founders, including “the Creator-endowed inalienable rights of the people, the structure of government, separation of powers with checks and balances, rule of law, equal justice, due process, the Bill of Rights” and more. A passing grade in the course would be required for graduation.
The bill, which would not take full effect until the 2014-2015 school year, also would encourage schools to display documents that reflect the nation’s history or influenced the United States legal or governmental system, such as the Magna Carta or the Ten Commandments.
Though the bill passed 103 to 11, it was not without controversy. Some African American lawmakers questioned how founding principles regarding slavery would be taught under the bill. And Rep. Phillip Haire (D-Haywood) tried unsuccessfully to amend out mentions of the Creator, the Ten Commandments, the Justinian Code and anything else he considered religious.
“If we’re going to teach history, let’s teach history. If we’re going to teach religion, then teach religion,” he said. “Are we going to try to educate them or save them?”
But Rep. John Blust (R-Guilford) said “You cannot teach North Carolina history or U.S. history without some mention of God or the Creator.”
A similar bill, S 520, was filed in the Senate by Senators Don Vaughan (D-Guilford) and Louis Pate (R-Greene).
H 239 Grandparents Visitation Rights
Once again a subgroup of the House Judiciary C Subcommittee took up the idea of expanding grandparents’ rights this week but decided to send H 239 back to committee without a recommendation.
The well-intentioned but controversial bill would allow a judge to order grandparent visitation if he or she deems it is in the best interest of a child. To decide this, the judge would be asked to consider some seven factors including whether there is a pre-existing relationship or a willingness to cultivate a relationship between the grandparent and child, whether the grandparent is willing to encourage a close relationship between the child and parent, the parent’s willingness to allow visits in the past, the mental and physical health of the child and grandparent and whether visitation would interfere with right of the parent to exercise parental authority.
Already grandparents can petition for visitation if a family is in the midst of a custody hearing, but backers of the bill say that is not enough.
The Christian Action League opposes the measure because it undermines parental rights. Similarly, Bill Brooks, executive director of the N.C. Family Policy Council, told the committee on Tuesday that the bill would not foster better family relationships.
“Someone who is threatened in North Carolina with potentially an order or having to surrender their rights to decide with whom their children are going to associate, even if they’re an intact family, can very well ‘vote with their feet’ by moving to another state that doesn’t have a law like this,” he said, “which in the scheme of making grandparents more accessible to children is going to greatly lessen the possibility that those children are going to see those grandparents.”
H 494 Continuous Alcohol Monitoring Law Changes
The House passed H 494 by a margin of 109 to 5 on Tuesday to expand the use of Continuous Alcohol Monitoring systems.
Already the CAM devices, anklets that detect traces of alcohol in a person’s perspiration and transmit data via modem to a server accessible via the Web, are a part of North Carolina’s DWI sentencing laws. H 494 would open the door for longer periods of monitoring of defendants and for CAM use in other cases.
According to the bill, which sponsors say is an additional tool to help reduce prison and jail costs, judges could order CAM as a condition of probation, to meet the requirements for the restoration of a revoked driver’s license, to mitigate punishments for impaired driving offenses and to ensure compliance with child custody and visitation orders.
The Christian Action League supports the bill.
H 854, Abortion-Women’s Right to Know
This bill — which would ensure that women seeking abortion receive information about the procedure, get a chance to view an ultrasound of the baby and have a 24-hour waiting period to consider their decision — passed the House, 71 to 48, despite very vocal opponents.
“We’re thrilled to see the supporters of this measure stand strong in the face of continued attacks from pro-abortion forces and hope to see the same resolve in the Senate,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League.
It is estimated the bill could save as many as 2,900 unborn children each year as pregnant women are better informed about abortion. Opponents said it will intrude on the doctor-patient relationship and become an unnecessary obstacle to abortion. But Rep. Pat McElraft (R-Carteret), one of the bill’s sponsors, said women have a right to know what is happening to their bodies and that they really don’t have a true choice unless they have all the facts.
H 289, Choose Life license plate
Another pro-life victory, the House passed H 289, which authorizes a Choose Life license tag among some 50 other new specialty plates that could become available to Tar Heel drivers. Again abortion forces tried to stall the legislation, with Rep. Bill Faison (D-Caswell) floating an amendment that would have added a Planned Parenthood plate to the list.
He said the amendment was needed for balance. But Rep. Mitch Gillespie (R-Burke), who has sponsored the Choose Life bill for years without it ever coming to the House floor, said Faison should put his idea on a separate bill. Faison’s amendment failed, 69 to 49, and the bill passed, 70 to 46. If it passes the Senate, proceeds from the Choose Life plate will go to benefit crisis pregnancy care centers across the state.
S 324 ABC Law/Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians
The Senate voted unanimously Tuesday to approve the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians’ plan to set up and enforce its own alcohol beverage control laws. The measure would give the tribe’s ABC Commission virtually the same powers and authority as the N.C. ABC Commission, allowing it to hold alcohol elections, issue permits and enforce rules regarding the purchase, possession, sale and delivery of alcohol.
The Christian Action League remains neutral on the bill partially because the Cherokee are considered a sovereign nation, but warned that caution should be taken when expanding the potential for alcohol sales in a population already suffering ill effects from substance abuse.
“It is not a matter of racial bias or prejudice to say that science has shown problems with alcohol are genetic and therefore considerably problematic among the American Indian population,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, the League’s executive director, who cited studies that show high rates of alcohol related car accidents and other problems among Native Americans.
The bill has been referred to the Alcoholic Beverage Control Subcommittee of the House Committee on Commerce and Job Development.