Ethen’s Law, Charter Schools, Eminent Domain, Medical Marijuana and more….
By L.A. Williams
Christian Action League
Currently, before the North Carolina General Assembly are numerous bills of concern. Here is a brief report on those that were acted upon this week and others that have been filed.
Acted Upon This Week
H 215/S 353 — Ethen’s Law, also known as the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, received a favorable report from the Senate Judiciary II Committee Thursday and may soon be taken up by the full Senate. The bill, passed by the House on March 24, would recognize that when a pregnant woman is injured or killed, there are two victims. The bill mirrors the federal Laci and Conner’s Law and would bring North Carolina in line with some 35 other states that recognize the nation’s youngest victims of violent crime.
Before voting on the measure, the committee heard from Effie Steele and Kevin Blaine, whose daughters and grandsons were murdered, and Brenda Greer, who lost her own unborn daughter 25 years ago when she was hit by a drunken driver two weeks before her due date.
“I chose to have Candy. I chose to raise her. I chose to love her. And my choice was stripped away,” Greer told lawmakers as she recounted the injustice of having her full-term baby described not as a “viable human being” but an “entity of interest” to the state.
Senators also heard from Sarah Preston with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), who said her organization opposes the bill primarily on the grounds that the perpetrator does not have to know a woman is pregnant to be charged with injury to the fetus. Members of the Committee rejected an amendment that would have required such knowledge, arguing that the legislation already thoroughly covered such concerns in language that referred to transfer of intent. Another amendent that would have made the bill apply only to unborn babies during the latter stages of development was also rejected.
S 8 – After passionate debate, which ended prematurely according to some lawmakers, the N.C. House passed on second reading the No Cap on Charter Schools bill Thursday and will take it up for third reading on Monday night. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Richard Stevens (R-Wake), would allow up to 50 new charters annually and would prevent the State Board of Education from rejecting charter proposals without giving specific reasons. It would require new charter schools to provide transportation for students of low-income families who live within three miles of the school. The measure is in response to parental outcry for more access to charter schools. State law currently limits North Carolina to 100 such organizations. An earlier version of the bill was passed by the Senate in late February.
On Thursday, House Majority Leader Paul Stam (R-Wake) said the bill had been thoroughly discussed for some six hours in Committee, that some 60 amendments had been offered and dozens of suggestions incorporated in the measure. He said anyone who believed the argument that charter schools, which are public, divert money from their traditional cousins, did not understand the math since charters are funded at a lower rate and therefore leave more money per student for traditional schools. He said the bill was about “improving education for children by allowing parents and communities to provide more choices.”
But Rep. Rick Glazier (D-Cumberland) told fellow lawmakers that passing the bill would be “signing the death warrant for public schools in North Carolina.”
The bill passed 66 to 48, almost completely along party lines, after which Democrats complained bitterly that not enough time was allowed for debate. Speaker of the House Thom Tillis said his intent was to set a time limit of 30 minutes for debate on Monday evening and suggested each caucus prioritize their speakers accordingly to keep bills moving.
H 8 — Eminent Domain, a bill filed by Majority Leader Paul Stam (R-Wake) on the first day of the session was approved by the Committee on Judiciary Wednesday and is headed to the House floor. The bill would allow voters to decide whether to amend the state Constitution “to prohibit condemnation of private property except for a public use and to provide for the payment of just compensation with right of trial by jury in all condemnation cases.” If the bill passes, the vote would take place Nov. 6, 2012.
Bills to Watch
H 577 — Representatives Kelly Alexander (D-Mecklenburg) Patsy Keever (D-Buncombe) and Pricey Harrison (D-Guilford) floated a bill to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes. The Medical Cannabis Act would allow anyone with a “chronic or debilitating medical condition” or his or her designated caregiver to grow “an adequate supply” of the drug for the person’s use. For a $5,000 license fee, a marijuana enthusiast could become a cannabis supplier and sell cannabis products, plants, seeds, etc., or become a licensed producer and grow cannabis for the retailers. The bill would also compel the University of North Carolina to create a Cannabis Research Program.
“This push for medical marijuana is nothing new. Similar and equally dangerous bills have been filed in the past couple of sessions,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “This truly has nothing to do with healthcare and everything to do with eventual total legalization of marijuana. We urge lawmakers to let this bill die.”
Alexander also filed H 324 – Amend Possession of Marijuana, which would lessen the penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana and would allow those convicted of possession to have the charge expunged from their criminal record.
Both bills have been referred to the Committee on Rules, Calendar and Operations of the House.
HB 601 is legislation that would supply intravenous drug users with clean needles and syringes. The supposed objective of Reduce Bloodborne Disease Infection is to help curb the spread of such diseases as Hepatitus C, HIV and AIDS, which are bloodborne diseases from spreading. “Such legislation should be sternly rejected on the principle that an individual’s choice to break the law and use illicit drugs is wrong. To burden taxpayers with paying for the consequences of such wrong- headed choices just isn’t right”, said Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League.
S 469 — Smoking Ban/Exempt Age Restricted Venues would create a loophole in the state’s smoke-free law passed in May 2009. Sponsored by Sen. Don East (R-Alleghany), the bill would allow smoking in any bar or restaurant that restricts entry to those 18 or older. Filed late last month, the bill comes just weeks after a statewide poll found that 74 percent of voters favor the state’s current law prohibiting smoking in restaurants and bars. The poll results, released Tuesday by the N.C. Alliance for Health, found support for the smoke-free law across party lines, including 78 percent of Democrats, 68 percent of Republicans and 71 percent of independent voters.
“These results show what we have always known – North Carolinians understand secondhand smoke is a serious health hazard, and they don’t want their right to breathe clean air taken away,” said Pam Seamans, Executive Director of the North Carolina Alliance for Health. “Although some special interests may not like the smoke-free law, it is clear the people of North Carolina overwhelmingly support being free from the toxic effects of secondhand smoke. This is one issue that unites North Carolinians across the political spectrum.”
The Rev. Mark Creech said the bill’s premise that those ages 18 or over should have a choice of whether or not to light up or expose themselves to secondhand smoke is faulty reasoning. “A lot of people who work in these locations have not had the same educational or employment opportunities as others, and they feel they desperately need these jobs. And yet the bill would subject them to live with the smoke day in and day out, without a choice,” he said.
H 588/S 520 – If lawmakers approve the Founding Principles Act, North Carolina high school students will spend at least a semester studying the philosophical foundations of our form of government, the principles underlying the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Federalist Papers and the writings of the Founders. And they’ll have to pass the class to graduate. House Bill 588 was filed by Rep. Harold Brubaker (R-Randolph) to try to better educate the next generation in the principles that make up the “heart and soul of a government for a free society.” Further, the bill would encourage the reading and posting of a host of historic U.S. documents in public schools and would take effect with the 2012-2013 school year. The legislation is in response to the growing concern that students and even U.S. adults have little understanding of our nation’s founding principles or how government works. According to the North Carolina Family Policy Council, an American Enterprise Institution report released last year revealed that only 15 percent of teachers were “very confident” that most of their graduating students could “understand such concepts as federalism, separations of powers, and checks and balances.”
H 588 has been referred to the House Education Committee. Its companion bill in the Senate, S 520, is sponsored by Sen. Don Vaughan (D-Guilford) and has been referred to the Committee on Rules and Operations of the Senate.