The Short Session
Christian Action League of North Carolina, Inc.
Shortly after the Legislature convened in May, the Christian Action League news coverage included a list of “bad bills to watch.” As the session ended, only one of the errant measures had become law, marking a successful year for lobbying efforts of the Christian Action League.
“It’s been a good year for us despite the Cherokee gambling bill,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “We have much for which to be thankful — several favorable laws that did pass and a number of imprudent ones that were scuttled.”
Following is a roundup of some of the issues that the League was address in the Short Session:
Preserving Marriage and Families
Clearly the most important victory for the Christian Action League this year was the Marriage Protection Amendment that won the state-wide approval of voters a little over a week before the General Assembly convened this spring. On May 24 the historic two-sentence amendment officially became part of the N.C. Constitution defining and protecting marriage as between one man and one woman.
“There is hardly a day that has passed since May 8 that I haven’t rejoiced over the passage of this critical amendment. I thank God for all the North Carolinians who believe in the sacred institution of marriage — this fundamental building block of society,” said Dr. Creech. “I am thankful to God for everyone who campaigned and worked so hard for the amendment’s passage. Most importantly, I am thankful to God for all those who went to the ballot box and cast their vote for traditional marriage.”
ACLU Sues State over Gay Adoption
Fewer than six weeks after Tar Heel voters affirmed their belief in traditional marriage the ACLU filed suit against the state demanding that it approve so-called “second parent” adoptions for gay and lesbian couples.
“While these folks are arguing that our laws deprive children of financial or legal benefits, we would suggest that it is their relationships that initially and ultimately deprive children of either a mother or a father,” said Dr. Creech. “No amount of legal rights or health benefits, nor a stack of adoption decrees is a suitable substitute for what these children really need.”
The CAL has watched vigilantly the issue of gay adoption since it came to the forefront in North Carolina more than two years ago with the case of former state Sen. Julia Boseman who has now twice sued her ex-partners to try to get custody of their biological children.
“We were part of an amicus brief filed in the Boseman case in support of the state’s very clear and reasoned adoption laws and we will continue to defend them,” said Dr. Creech.
Protecting the Unborn
Joining a number of other states that are cutting off funding to the nation’s largest abortion provider, the North Carolina General Assembly rerouted $343,000 that would have gone to Planned Parenthood, sending it instead to county health departments. Although the governor vetoed the budget bill, lawmakers voted to override her veto, putting into law a provision that prohibits the state Department of Health and Human Services from contracting with “private providers” of family planning services. Planned Parenthood was the only private business involved in such contracts, so the new law effectively ends the practice of state taxpayers subsidizing the abortion-driven organization without calling it by name. An earlier attempt to defund Planned Parenthood had hit a snag when a court ruled that it could not be singled out.
“This is most welcome news as the Christian Action League has long spoken out against funding for Planned Parenthood,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “Taxpayers should never be forced to help support an organization that performs more than 300,000 abortions every year across the nation.”
Protecting Children/Human Trafficking Victims
S 910 – Sale of a Minor/Felony Offense: A major step forward in the fight against human trafficking, this law increased the penalty for buying or selling a minor, an offense that had been classified as a misdemeanor. The Christian Action League worked with victims’ services organizations and legislators on the bill, which underwent several revisions. In its final form, the law, set to take effect Dec. 1, makes the crime a Class F felony punishable by a fine of at least $5,000 and a prison term of 10 months to three years.
Human Trafficking Commission: In addition to passing S-910, lawmakers inserted into the budget revision bill (H-950) a provision that creates a 12-member commission to research how the crime is happening in North Carolina and what can be done to intervene. The Human Trafficking Commission, for which the CAL had advocated for a number of years, should help coordinate law enforcement and social service efforts to address the problem and hopefully take North Carolina out of the top 10 states in the nation for this modern day slavery. Christian Action League Lobbyist Sarah Bowman has been leading the charge on this issue and is offering workshops for church and community groups to educate them about human trafficking. To request such an event, call the CAL office at (919) 787-0606.
Fighting Against Gambling
S 582 – Authorize Indian Gaming/Revenue: Arguably the worst bill to win approval from lawmakers this session, this law opens the door to full-fledged Las Vegas-style gaming not only at Harrah’s Casino in Cherokee but at two additional casinos that can be built on tribal lands in Western North Carolina. Activating a 30-year contract that had already been signed by the Governor and the Eastern Band of Cherokees, the new law is expected to create a few hundred jobs and several thousand gambling addicts.
The Christian Action League called on supporters to contact their lawmakers and urge them to vote against the measure and more than a half-dozen legislators spoke passionately against the move on the House floor. But proponents of the gambling expansion extolled the virtues of its link to education funding — 4 to 8 percent of the profits from new games are to be earmarked for schools — and claimed that gambling had brought prosperity to one of the poorest areas of the state. It seemed no one wanted to talk about increases in crime, addiction and welfare that always accompany problem gambling.
Dr. Creech said the expansion of gambling at Cherokee and its link to education means that “state government will now partner with the most predatory industry in the country to fleece its own citizens and guests who come as tourists.”
He said the move also signals “gambling’s increasing power over state politics.”
H 1180 -Video Sweepstakes Entertainment Tax: this bill would have set North Carolina back by embracing the video gaming industry, a group that lawmakers have tried to send packing more than once over the past six years. Although proponents, with the Governor’s blessing, argued that the bill wouldn’t legalize sweepstakes, but would put them under the control of the Lottery Commission and impose a variety of fees and taxes to generate funds for education and law enforcement, Rev. Creech pointed out that it would validate this form of gambling and set it up as a legitimate revenue stream, making it even harder to eradicate.
An analysis of the bill showed that it could lead to as many as 169,000 video sweepstakes machines coming in to operation — one for every 57 people in the state. Those pushing the bill illogically argued both that it would bring in millions in revenue because of the number of machines being taxed and that the fees would curtail sweepstakes operations causing many of the pop-up casinos to close their doors.
“Just like the lottery, this would put North Carolina in the position of betting against her own people, balancing the budget on the backs of those who can least afford it,” Dr. Creech said. “We are happy to see the session end before this bill could be voted on and we hope the North Carolina Supreme Court rules against video sweepstakes before long so that the state’s ban of the games can be fully enforced.”
H 1188 – Casino Nights for Non Profits: In another bid to make gambling more available, a bill called was introduced to allow charity organizations to hold up to four “casino nights” per year with full-fledged gambling — roulette, blackjack, poker, pull tabs, craps, chuck-a-luck, keno and more — as well as the serving of alcohol.
Sponsored by Rep. Bill Owens (D-Camden), who also sponsored the video sweepstakes bill and promoted the expansion of Cherokee gambling, the bill would set the stage for further legalization of these predatory games. Bill Brooks with the North Carolina Family Policy Council called the proposed casino nights “training wheels” for full-fledged gambling. Rev. Creech agreed.
Modeled on an earlier casino night bill filed last year, this measure was referred to the Committee on Judiciary Subcommittee B where it remained at session’s end.
Keeping Alcohol under Control
As is the case each session, a number of bills were introduced this year that would weaken control of the sale of alcoholic beverages.
S 951– Cleveland Cty. Prop. Transfer/ABC Def. and H 585 – Vehicle Emissions Inspections: When originally filed, these bills had nothing to do with alcohol, but late in the session, an alcohol provision that would broaden the definition of “Historic ABC Establishment” and allow liquor by the drink at Chimney Rock’s Esmeralda Inn without a vote of the people was first added to S-951. Thankfully, members of the House refused to approve the bill until the alcohol portion was removed. When it was added to H-585, a bill about vehicle emissions that had already passed the Senate, it was unclear if the measure could be stopped. Dr. Creech contacted a number of key lawmakers whom he knew supported the local option system and before it came to a vote, the legislation was what the House now refers to as “Edgarized,” meaning Rep. Edgar Starnes (R-Caldwell) removed every last drop of alcohol from the bill.
Dr. Creech was very encouraged by House members’ strong stand against back door provisions that expand alcohol sales.
“Perhaps this signals that they finally are listening and starting to defend the state’s local option system for alcohol marketing,” he said, describing it as a “most welcome change from previous years.”
S 713 – Spirtuous Liquor Sales – Distilleries would have opened the door for distilleries to sell their liquor to tourists on site and thereby circumvent the ABC system. The bill had already passed the Senate last spring and was awaiting action in the House Committee on Commerce and Job Development.
Rev. Creech reminded lawmakers how well the ABC system works in creating a balance — protecting the public’s health while garnering revenue for the state and urged them to keep spirits within the confines of stricter sales parameters. He said if distilleries were allowed to sell liquor, it would only be a matter of time before other businesses outside of the ABC system demanded the same privilege.
Fortunately, the bill never made it out of committee.
H 494-Continuous Alcohol Monitoring Law Changes: A positive law aimed at giving judges additional sentencing tools and helping defendants with alcohol problems stay on the right track, Continuous Alcohol Monitoring (CAM) Law Changes passed during the final days of the session. The law expands the conditions under which a judge can order a defendant to wear the anklet, which performs some four dozen alcohol tests per day and transmits data that can be accessed online by district attorneys’ offices. According to the new law, which takes effect Dec. 1, the anklets can be ordered as a condition of pretrial release, probation or in custody cases.
“Alcohol abuse brings so much harm to our communities. Anything that can be done to intervene and prevent these defendants from becoming intoxicated protects not only the person wearing the CAM anklet, but those around them as well,” said Dr. Creech. “We urge judges and prosecutors to take full advantage of this new law.”
Take it Back Movement: Although not a legislative issue, the Take it Back North Carolina campaign is one the CAL definitely supports as it would reclassify “alcopops” — sweet and fruity alcoholic beverages especially popular with teens — as “spirits” and take them off the shelves of convenience and grocery stores and limit their sales to ABC stores.
Public health advocates are gathering signatures to urge the state to enforce what is already on the books, a law that says that any malt beverage that contains spirits is classified as liquor.
Moving the alcopops, known as a binge-in-a-can because of their high alcohol content and 24-ounce container, into ABC stores would help keep them out of the hands of underage drinkers.
The CAL has worked to spread the word on this issue and will continue to do so. To find out more and sign the petition, log on to http://www.petitionbuzz.com/petitions/reclassifyalcopops.
Battling Drugs and Tobacco
Funding cuts: Unfortunately lawmakers cut funding for tobacco prevention and cessation programs from $17.3 million to $2.7 million, a move which public health advocates say will cost lives.
“We understand that budget cuts have to be made, but we would urge lawmakers to consider that the $141 million received this year from the tobacco Master Settlement Agreement is intended to help states deal with the toll of tobacco use,” said Dr. Creech. “Programs that can prevent young people from ever starting this horrible habit are worth our investment as taxpayers and as Christians who care about our brothers and sisters.”
H 577 -Medical Cannabis Act: this bill filed in the spring of 2011 was assigned to the Committee on Rules, Calendar and Operations of the House and went nowhere, thankfully. But the Christian Action League continues to monitor these types of bills that have popped up almost every session as the push for legalizing marijuana continues across the nation. More similar legislation is expected especially since the Democratic Party of North Carolina has passed a resolution favoring medical marijuana.
“The Food and Drug Administration has determined that marijuana has a high potential for abuse, has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, and has a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision. It also points out that there is evidence that smoked marijuana is harmful,” said the Rev. Creech. “Furthermore, approving this drug for medicinal use is step one toward full legalization. For these and other reasons, the CAL will continue to stand against marijuana use.”
Upholding the Death Penalty
S 416 – Amend Death Penalty Procedures: this bill brought needed balance to the state’s Racial Justice Act and should bring the state a step closer to ending its moratorium on the death penalty. The RJA approved in 2009 had led to appeals from some 97 percent of death row inmates, some of them white killers who had murdered white victims. The new law still allows use of statistics to help prove racial bias, but limits stats to the county or prosecutorial district where the defendant is tried and to the time period including the decade prior to the crime and two years after the trial. It also specifies that more than statistics are needed to prove racial discrimination in a capital case.
“True justice must involve individual responsibility, not collective punishment or collective relief,” said Dr. Creech. “We can’t eradicate racism by commuting a murderer’s death penalty sentence simply because someone of his race suffered discrimination in the past.”
Although death penalty opponents decried the modifications to the Racial Justice Act and the governor vetoed S-416, there was enough bipartisan support for the bill to override the veto so that it became law on July 2.
Working to Protect Religious Freedom
The CAL has continued to follow a number of issues beyond the Legislature that involve religious freedom of Tar Heel citizens. Two recent such incidents involved prayer at graduation ceremonies and prayer in Jesus name by chaplains of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department.
“In both of these cases, Christians’ expressions of faith have been arbitrarily stifled, ironically, in the name of religious freedom,” said Dr. Creech. “Our goal in these situations is to bring them to light and to encourage not only those targeted by attacks on their religion, but others in our society who may be next on the list.”
The CAL follows these issues and more on its weekly e-mail updates and via the CAL Web site to keep supporters informed and to offer opportunities to get involved and defend the faith.