By L.A. Williams
Christian Action League
RALEIGH – Marathon debates on numerous bills marked the final week of the long session that ended on Saturday. In addition to a $19.7 billion budget, which the governor tried unsuccessfully to veto, lawmakers approved a range of legislation from annexation and tax reform to pro-life measures. They heard from the Christian Action League on many of these issues. The North Carolina General Assembly will not be back in session until July 13, when a weeklong redistricting session is planned. Lawmakers also have said they will take up a number of proposals to change the state Constitution, including the Marriage Protection Amendment, later in the Fall of this year. Meanwhile, below is a round-up of results on bills of interest to the Christian Action League.
Tar Heel students would get more exposure to their nation’s early history, now that the Founding Principles Act has been approved by lawmakers. The law requires 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 measure passed the House and then, with a small amendment, the Senate. But when it went back to the House for concurrence, lawmakers realized the bill did not make it clear that the semester class could be part of the history curriculum already being put in place in North Carolina high schools, so the House voted not to concur in order to have the bill go to a conference committee where corrections were made. The bill was ratified on Saturday and now goes to the Governor for her signature.
H 854, Abortion-Women’s Right to Know
Lawmakers have passed a bill that could save an estimated 2,900 unborn babies a year by simply informing pregnant women in detail about the implications of abortion, having them undergo an ultrasound and requiring them to wait 24 hours before having the procedure. H 854, Abortion -Women’s Right to Know passed the House, 71 to 48, despite very vocal opponents, and won approval in the Senate, 29 to 20 on Thursday night, after more debate. It brings North Carolina in line with some 34 other states that require counseling before an abortion. The bill now goes to Gov. Bev Perdue. The bill lacks a one vote veto-proof margin in both chambers of the North Carolina General Assembly. Supporters of the measure are urged to pray for Gov. Perdue to have the wisdom not to veto the bill.
H 289, Choose Life license plate
The long battle to get a Choose Life license plate approved to help support pregnancy resource centers in North Carolina continued this past week with the approval of H 289, which added an assortment of specialty tags to the state’s list. Abortion forces had tried to stall the legislation, with Rep. Bill Faison (D-Caswell) floating an amendment in the House that would have added a Planned Parenthood plate to the list and Sen. Floyd McKissick (D-Durham) suggesting the same in the Senate. Both amendments were defeated. However, the bill was changed in the Senate to make all the tags alike with the First in Flight design. They would then have a square on the left to identify their “specialty” group. As a result Bill sponsor Rep. Mitch Gillespie (R-Burke) asked the House not to concur with the Senate version of the bill. The measure then went into conference, where a compromise was reached. The ‘Choose Life’ plate will be allowed, along with other specialty plates, to have multi-colors. A special legislative study will be done to determine if the multi-colored plates are presenting any hazards for law enforcement, and a sunset on the specialty plates would phase them out no later than 2015. The legislation was ratified on Saturday and now goes to Governor Perdue for her signature.
S 324 ABC Law/Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians
The N.C. Legislature approved the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians’ plan to set up and enforce its own alcoholic beverage control laws. The measure gives 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.
Supporters of the bill said Cherokees already had federal authority to establish their own ABC system, but that the tribe had worked with North Carolina agencies to line up their new laws to work in tandem with the state. Because alcohol sales had been approved at Harrah’s Casino some two years ago, the tribal council already has ALE officers in place. Any new alcohol sales will have to be approved via and ABC referendum. The bill was ratified on Thursday and has gone to the Governor for her signature.
The Christian Action League was neutral on this measure.
North Carolina is cracking down on repeat DWI offenders with House Bill 49, also known as Laura’s Law. Named for 17-year-old Gaston County resident Laura Fortenberry, who was killed in a head-on collision with a drunken driver less than a year ago, the new law creates the Aggravated Level One tier of punishment for DWI offenders whose cases involve at least three aggravating factors. Those could include another DWI conviction within the past seven years, a charge of driving while license revoked, causing serious injury to another person via impaired driving, or driving while impaired with a minor in the car. In addition to the usual DWI penalties, the punishment for Aggravated Level One can now include a fine of up to $10,000 and at least 120 days in prison without parole. Judges can also order that a defendant released on probation abstain from alcohol consumption throughout probation (up to three years) and wear a continuous alcohol monitoring device to prove compliance. Offenders will have to pay for the monitoring and pay an additional $100 in court costs.
“This has been a long road to toughen the state’s DWI law,” said Rep. Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) on Thursday. In his introduction of the bill earlier this year, he said that had the law been in place prior to Fortenberry’s wreck, her killer would not have been behind the wheel that day.
The legislation was ratified on Thursday and presented to the Governor on Friday to await her signature.
H 12, Stop Methamphetamine Labs
The General Assembly hopes to make it more difficult for would-be methamphetamine makers to get ahold of their main ingredient with this new law that will increase the monitoring of the sale of pseudoephedrine products. The law, set to take effect Jan. 1, 2012, requires retailers who sell any of some 15 pseudoephedrine-containing medicines to enter purchaser information into an electronic data base designed to track purchases across a network and issue a stop alert if the purchaser is about to exceed quantity limits already established in state law. In addition, the law requires the Legislative Commission on Methamphetamine Abuse, established in 2005, to study the measure’s effects on the number of meth labs discovered across the state and to report back to the 2013 General Assembly.
Sponsors of the Stop Meth bill first pushed to make pseudoephedrine a Schedule III controlled substance which would have made it available by prescription only but met resistance from drug companies, retail merchants and others who influenced lawmakers to soften the bill.
“We were disappointed that the initial bill didn’t make progress, but certainly pleased to see lawmakers take some action against meth labs,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League.
The legislation was ratified on Thursday and presented to the Governor on Friday to await her signature.
This bill to make it easier for small political parties to find a place on the North Carolina ballot passed the House, 66 to 50 on June 7, but remains in the Senate Committee on Judiciary I. 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.
The legislation remains eligible for consideration and could be taken up during the special session on redistricting according to the adjournment resolution. However, the bill’s primary sponsor, Rep. Stephen LaRoque has told supporters the measure will not likely be heard until the May 2012 Short Session.
H 796, Sale of Alcoholic Beverages
Despite the best efforts of a trio of senators who tried to warn fellow lawmakers of the dangers of making alcohol more available in the state, the Senate on Thursday approved this egregious bill that would extend alcohol sales by some 13 hours per week and would allow alcohol sales at hotels, convention centers, food markets, restaurants or performing arts centers with 2,000 or fewer seats at certain universities in the University of North Carolina system.
When routed to the House for consideration, however, the bill met with considerable opposition. It was first referred to the House Rules Committee.
Originally, HB 769 was a bill sponsored by Rep. Tim Moffitt (R-Buncombe) to study the property tax valuation process. The measure had passed the House and gone to the Senate, where the Senate Rules Committee stripped the measure of its House language (first edition) and substituted content for increased hours for alcohol sales, proposed by Sen. Clark Jenkins (D-Edgecombe). It was the version containing content about alcohol sales that the Senate passed (second edition). Nevertheless, Moffitt took great exception to his name being on a bill with such an egregious approach to alcohol marketing. So the House Rules Committee stripped the measure of the language inserted by the Senate (second edition) and reinserted Moffitt’s original language (first edition) about property taxes, thus, removing the bill of any alcohol content. The House then voted not to concur 104-0. At this point it’s somewhat difficult to sort out what this actually means for the future of the legislation. The Christian Action League will make further inquiries and make a full report at at a later date. Watch for it.
H 239 Grandparents Visitation Rights
The idea of expanding grandparents’ rights as expressed in 239 remained in the House Judiciary Subcommittee C without any action and is, therefore, dead. The well-intentioned but controversial bill would have allowed a judge to order grandparent visitation if he or she deemed it in the best interest of a child. Already grandparents can petition for visitation if a family is in the midst of a custody hearing, but backers of the bill say this is not enough. The Christian Action League opposed the measure because it undermines parental rights.
H 494 Continuous Alcohol Monitoring Law Changes
The House passed H 494 by a margin of 109 to 5 to expand the use of Continuous Alcohol Monitoring systems. The bill remains with the Senate Rules Committee and is still eligible for consideration in the 2012 Short Session.
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.
The Christian Action League supports the bill.
S 9 Discriminatory Purpose in Death Penalty
Impassioned debate accompanied lawmakers’ discussion of S 9 which would negate much of the Racial Justice Act that was passed two years ago. Both the Senate and the House passed versions of the bill with the measure landing in the Senate Committee on Judiciary I. Supporters of Senate Bill 9 say it is needed to repair the Racial Justice Act, which is too vague, has been misused by death row inmates to garner undeserved and costly appeals and has effectively created a moratorium on capital punishment. But those championing the Racial Justice Act argue that it is imperative for defendants in capital crimes to be able to use statistics regarding past North Carolina cases to show that racism played a role in their sentences. Some 156 of 158 death row inmates have filed appeals based on the RJA, one of only two such laws in the nation. In the House debate on Thursday, Rep. Rick Glazier (D-Cumberland) told fellow lawmakers that race remains the nation’s “open wound whose ragged edges long to heal but cannot.” He said the RJA was all about the relationship between North Carolina’s history and its present and that it is needed because both anecdotal and statistical evidence proves that racism is a factor in criminal law. But Rep. Paul Stam (R-Wake) gave a different look at history, taking lawmakers first to the Code of Hammurabi, then on to Justinian’s Code and even on a side trip to the Nuremberg War Trials. He stressed the Western Civilization principle of individual responsibility rather than collective punishment.
The legislation remains eligible for consideration during the May 2012 Short Session.
H 910 Government Health Plans / Limited Abortion Coverage
H 910, sponsored by Rep. Stephen LaRoque (R-Greene), would limit abortion coverage under the state health plan for teachers and state employees as well as under any health insurance plan offered by a county or municipality. Although a committee substitute bill won a favorable report from the Committee on State Personnel, the bill was pulled from the House calendar earlier this month and re-referred to the Committee on Rules, Calendar and Operations of the House. It remains eligible for consideration in the May 2012 Short Session.
While lawmakers and the Governor agreed early this year that privatization of the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control system was not the way to go, the idea still made it into the Studies Act of 2011. According to H 773, which passed the House on June 7 and approved by the Senate with changes on Friday, the bill authorizes the Legislative Research Commission to study whether the involvement in the distribution and sale of liquor is a core government function and the privatization and divestiture of the ABC system, including potential recurring and nonrecurring revenue from such a move. The Commission may also make a comparison of the state’s ABC system with those in other states, including Ohio and Virginia and may further analyze several other aspects of ABC.
Because the bill contained content unacceptable to the House, the House voted not to concur on Saturday. Conferees will be appointed to work on differences and consider the legislation at a later time.