BLOGS: Keeping Up With Jones Street

Friday, July 17, 2015, 3:41 PM

July 17th, 2015 Womble Legislative Update

In Limbo

You may recall that the General Assembly did not enact a new budget in time for the fiscal year that began July 1st. Instead, a continuing resolution was passed that keeps spending static until its expiration of August 14th. When August 14th gets here we will either have a state budget in place (not likely), have a state government shut-down (not likely but scary just the same), or another continuing resolution that punts the budget deadline farther into the future (where I’m placing my bet).  Governor McCrory has taken two steps to interject that pique our interest:

  • Governor McCrory addressed the House Republican Caucus then the Senate Republican Caucus on Thursday to urge getting the budget unstuck. House Republicans say the governor urged support for his highway and infrastructure bonds, as well as his ideas about Medicaid Reform. He urged the House to hold the line on tax reform.  The Senators didn’t share what went on in their caucus but we know the governor and the House agenda are fairly closely aligned.
  • State Budget Director Lee Roberts is querying agencies to determine which functions are critical for “health, safety and well-being” and must continue even if there is a state government shut-down. Although a shut-down is unlikely, there is not a clear catalogue of which functions are vital and which are not.

 Budget Conferees Appointed

One month after the Senate passed its version of the budget, the House and Senate have appointed conferees to the conference committee which will develop a compromise agreement.  When choosing members for the conference committee, it seems that there were many worthy choices.  The House appointed 82 conferees (more than two-thirds of the House membership), which includes almost every member who voted for the House budget except for Speaker Tim Moore and includes 19 Democrats.  Speaker Moore said they will divide the budget work into subject areas such as health and education.

The Senate followed suit two days later and appointed 32 conferees consisting of the entire Senate Republican Caucus except for Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger and Senator Bob Rucho – the only Senate Republican to vote against the budget.  No Democrats made the cut.

The grand total of budget conferees comes to 114 – two-thirds of the full General Assembly. 

To compare, the total number of conferees last session was 43:  27 from the House and 16 from the Senate.

The conference committee will now have a month to develop a compromise before the current continuing resolution expires on August 14.  No word on when conferees will officially begin meeting.

Eliminating Protest Petitions

HB 201 – Zoning Changes/Citizen Input , which eliminates the use of the protest petition, has been approved by the legislature and was presented to the governor for his signature this week.  Protest petitions, used by residents to force three-fourths votes rather than simple majorities by city councils on controversial proposed rezoning proposals, have been used by neighbors to slow down new developments or business construction near existing homes and businesses.  Supporters of the bill deemed this process “archaic” during discussions and argued that the petitions make it too easy for a small group of landowners to block progress on a development project.  The bill replaces protest petitions with a process for concerned residents to submit written comments to the clerk of the board, who would forward them to council members if they are received at least two days before the rezoning vote.

Confederate Monuments

SB 22 – Historic Artifact Management and Patriotism Act – was reviewed and received a favorable report in the House Committee on Homeland Security, Military, and Veterans Affairs this week.  It would bar state or local authorities from permanently removing an object on public land that “commemorates an event, person or military service that is part of North Carolina’s history.”  Removing such an object would require an act by the General Assembly to be approved by the governor.  The bill was introduced in the Senate in February – months before last month’s shootings in Charleston – and is intended to protect historical monuments from “knee-jerk reactions.”

House leadership attempted to add the bill to Wednesday’s calendar for a vote by the full House, but decided to push it until next week after objections by House Minority Leader Larry Hall and other Democrats.  It’s now on the calendar for Monday night.

Auto Emissions Inspections on the chopping block. Sort of.

In 2002, NC enacted legislation to mandate annual auto emissions inspections in 48 counties – mostly urban counties and their adjacent neighbors but some rural counties that registered high NOx and SOx readings. The testing combined with targeted emissions reductions from coal-fired power plants (the Clean Smokestacks Act) and emissions reductions from industry smokestacks were a balanced attempt to balance the cost and responsibility for improving air quality in NC in accordance with the federal Clean Air Act.  Since then new cars are running cleaner and the emissions test has few failures leading lawmakers to question whether it’s worth the cost and hassle to drivers.  HB 169 – Limit Motor Vehicle Emissions Inspections repeals the annual emissions inspection requirement for all but Alamance, Buncombe, Cabarrus, Cumberland, Davidson, Durham, Forsyth, Gaston, Guilford, Iredell, Johnston, Lincoln, Mecklenburg, Orange, Pitt, Randolph, Rowan, Union and Wake Counties, but does not eliminate the annual safety inspection which is part of that same service. The bill passed a House Committee and we expected a full House floor debate this week…. until the service station owners, who perform these inspections, weighed in on their capital costs to provide the state-mandated service.  We’re waiting to see how the business interests get resolved.  The bill has been calendared for House consideration Monday; if the bill passes the House, it will need Senate approval and the governor’s signature.  It would not go into effect until the EPA approves an amendment to NC’s state implementation plan.


SB 619 – Grey’s Law would enact tougher measures against drunk driving, including a proposal to require ignition interlocks for everyone convicted of DWI.  These are devices that are connected to ignition systems and require a driver to blow into a tube before starting the car to ensure that the driver’s blood alcohol limit is below the set threshold.  Current law requires an ignition interlock in certain circumstances, including drunk drivers convicted of repeat offenses, drivers who refuse to submit to a blood-alcohol breath test, or drivers who blow at or over .15.  Over 11,000 drivers in North Carolina currently have interlock systems in their vehicles as a result.  It is estimated that an additional 19,000 drivers would be added by this bill.

While some Senators argued that the scope of the bill is too wide, others argued that stricter interlock proposals would keep drunk drivers off the roads and reduce the number of alcohol-related accidents.  Senator Josh Stein, one of the bill’s sponsors, argued that interlock systems cut recidivism rates by 50% and pointed out that 26 other states require interlocks after all DWI convictions. 

The bill was up for discussion only this week.  The next meeting of the committee has not yet been scheduled.

Up Next Week:  We’ve heard the House will not have recorded votes toward the end of the week so members can attend the American Legislative Exchange Council meeting in San Diego.

Thursday, July 9, 2015, 11:31 AM

July 2, 2015 Womble Legislative Update

Premature Fireworks on Jones Street
We know it’s only July 2nd, but thanks to the fight over Greensboro City Council Redistricting we have fireworks! On the eve of the Legislative Summer Recess a carefully crafted conference committee report was rejected by the House with some of those members calling senators “bullies” much to the delight of the media. House Republicans retreated to caucus for arm-twisting.

And you thought the only danger from sharks was at the beaches….

Greensboro Legislative Mischief

A bill filed in March reducing the membership of the Trinity City Council (population 6,650) from eight members to five members, and reducing the terms for Mayor and City Council members from four years to two years if approved by referendum took on a new life when Sen. Trudy Wade added a new section to the bill in the Senate Redistricting Committee, quadrupling the size of the bill, that redistricts the Greensboro City Council. The House rejected the Senate changes and a compromise bill emerged from a conference committee this week. The conference report  for HB 263 – City Elections/Trinity and Greensboro  increases the Greensboro City Council from seven to eight members with none elected city-wide, and the mayor may only cast a vote to break a tie. The legislature drew the eight districts splitting precinct blocks and deviating from the ideal district numbers triggering the gerrymander claim. The conference report also assigns to the General Assembly the task of redistricting of the Greensboro City Council after the 2020 census – a job they left to the City Council in the past. Greensboro Rep John Blust, a conferee, refused to sign the conference report because it did not include a city-wide referendum on the changes, which he and others advocated for.

The conference report was placed on the calendar in both the House and the Senate for Thursday’s session. The House failed to garner the necessary votes to support the compromise voting 50 to 53 on the first go-round; and Rep. Glazier’s clincher motion was rejected by the Speaker. (A clincher motion is a redundancy that kills something dead). Rep. John Blust of Greensboro stated on the House floor that senators were threatening to kill House Bills as retribution.

House Republicans retreated to a quick caucus meeting where arm twisting managed to change seven votes and the conference report was then messily adopted by the House. Procedurally, a member who voted on the prevailing side, in this case voted against the conference report, made a motion to “reconsider the vote by which the report failed”. That motion passed and the conference report was back before the House for consideration. Next came a motion to forgo debate, which passed along party lines. Ultimately the conference report was adopted by the House by a vote of 57 to 46.

Bills dealing with redistricting and terms of office become law upon ratification and do not require the Governor’s signature.

Summer Recess

The General Assembly goes on summer vacation until 7:00 pm on Monday, July 13th according  SR 717 which was ratified today.  Our State Constitution provides that, while in session, “The two houses may jointly adjourn to any future day or other place. Either house may, of its own motion, adjourn for a period not in excess of three days.” In this instance the first sentence applies, and they adjourn for 10 days.  Interestingly, state law prohibits fundraising from PACs associated with lobbyists and from lobbyist principals unless or until the General Assembly has adjourned for more than ten days.  A missed opportunity?

Uber won’t be uber-regulated

SB 541 – Regulate Transportation Network Companies – passed the Senate Transportation Committee this week and heads to the Senate Finance Committee.  The bill sets regulations for the currently unregulated ride-sharing industry, like Uber and Lyft, by requiring these companies to conduct criminal background checks on drivers and requiring drivers to be covered by at least $1 million in liability insurance when driving for the company.  Taxi drivers have been asking the state to begin regulating the new industry –their competition. Uber officials say that they already comply with the provisions in the bill and are supportive of the bill moving forward.  **We learned that some auto insurance policies have covenants that void a personal auto policy if the car is used for livery. This has been a rude awakening for some parents of college-age secret Uber drivers.

Regulatory Reform

The Senate has put together a wide-ranging regulatory reform bill designed to loosen regulations on businesses.  HB 765 – Regulatory Reform Act of 2015 – was originally a House bill dealing with gravel and rock transport, but is now a 54-page list of regulatory changes that Senate Republicans insist are necessary for a healthy economy in North Carolina.  The Department of Environment and Natural Resources objected to some of the bill’s provisions and submitted a letter of its demands in exchange for removing its objection. The Senate approve a wide-ranging omnibus amendment that appeased the department and then approved the bill.  

Just a reminder that the state government did not shut down at the June 30th end of the fiscal year.A continuing resolution was enacted to continue government spending until August 14th by which time a budget agreement may be reached, or more likely another continuing resolution is adopted.

Next Week
We’re expecting a quiet week on Jones Street with the legislature in recess.  But the clock is ticking on the budget continuing resolution. We’ll keep you posted.

June 26, 2015 Womble Legislative Update

The budget gridlock rumors on Jones Street are real. A decorated Christmas tree arrived in the Senate chamber this week to emphasize how far apart the two chambers are on next year’s spending plan. Next year starts on Wednesday. Speaking of next year, in the absence of a new budget the legislature must pass a “continuing resolution” to keep state government running or face a government shutdown. We don’t know exactly what was going on behind the closed doors of the caucuses, but the General Assembly adjourned until Monday with no plan in place. Early next week will be a pressure cooker.

Keeping the Government Running

Because the final budget won’t be in place by the end of the fiscal year (June 30), the General Assembly must pass a continuing resolution that will keep the government running until a compromise budget bill can be worked out.  On Thursday, the House and Senate both took a recess after completing their calendars in hopes that a continuing resolution could be voted on and passed before legislators went home for the weekend.  After extending the recess several times, both chambers adjourned for the day without taking anything else up.  Leaders from both chambers weren’t able to agree on a few things, including:

  • Teacher assistant funding- While the House budget plan leaves teacher assistant funding levels unchanged, the Senate budget cuts about 5,000 teacher assistant positions.  This point of contention is being addressed in the continuing resolution because school districts will need to begin making personnel decisions before the school year starts in August.
  • Driver’s education- While the House budget plan leaves driver’s education funding intact, the Senate budget eliminates the limit on the fees a local school board can currently charge a student for driver’s education for the 2015-2016 school year, moves driver’s education to community colleges in 2016-2017, and eliminates the requirement that students take driver’s education.
  • The length of time the continuing resolution would cover- While House leaders would like for the expiration date to be somewhere around the end of September, Senate leaders want an earlier date.  House leaders are predicting that budget negotiations could last several months, but Senate leaders have dismissed that idea.
Leadership from both chambers are hoping to have an agreement by early next week.

Reforming Medicaid

HB 372 – 2015 Medicaid Modernization – passed the House this week and was sent to the Senate.  Instead of being welcomed with open arms, the bill was sent directly to the Senate Ways & Means Committee, aka “The graveyard of the Senate.”  The Senate sends bill to that committee as a statement.  In this case, the Senate has included their much more dramatic Medicaid reform proposal in their budget and will continue to push for it during budget negotiations.

The House plan:

  • Medicaid would remain within the Department of Health and Human Services
  • Provider-led entities would be the only organizations allowed to operate health plans
  • Full capitation would be phased in over five years
  • Supported by the Department of Health and Human Services, the North Carolina Hospital Association, and the NC Medical Society
The Senate plan:

  • Medicaid would be removed from the Department of Health and Human Services and would be overseen by a new Health Benefits Authority which would be run by an appointed board
  • The board would contract with three private healthcare management providers who would serve Medicaid patients state-wide
  • The state would be divided into six regions and offer contracts to two local provider-led organizations in each region
  • Full capitation would be phased in over two years
A Blue Law Topples

A conference report for HB 640 – Outdoor Heritage Act – has been adopted by the House and Senate, toppling one of the remaining blue laws in NC which prohibited Sunday hunting with a gun; it awaits ratification and the Governor’s signature. The bill would allow hunting on Sundays with guns on private lands with permission of the owner, without dogs, and not between the traditional church-going hours of 9:30 am – 12:30 pm.  There is no hours restriction on private hunting preserves.  No Sunday hunting in Wake or Mecklenburg counties (they meet the 700,000 population threshold).  The three hour no hunting period was a nod to the conservative religious movement that seeks to keep the congregation in church on Sundays whether they hunt or not.  The conference report received bipartisan support from urban and rural legislators.

Greensboro City Council

SB 36 – Greensboro City Council Changes – is a bill that we told you about back in March.  Introduced by Senator Trudy Wade, the bill makes changes to the Greensboro City Council by shrinking it from nine members to seven, making the mayor a non-voting member in most cases, and extend member terms from two years to four years.  Although it passed through the Senate easily, it was met with resistance in the House.  The Guilford County House delegation (with the exception of Rep. John Faircloth) has banded together and come out against the bill or insisted on adding a referendum which would allow Greensboro residents to vote on the changes.  As a result, they garnered the votes to add a referendum to the bill.  However, seeing that her bill was meeting resistance, Senator Wade added the language to a House bill that was being heard in the Senate.  HB 263 – City Elections/Trinity – was originally a non-controversial bill that only applied to the City Council in Trinity.  It passed the Senate and has been sent back to the House for concurrence with the new title “City Elections/Trinity and Greensboro.”

The original bill sponsor, Representative Pat Hurley, is urging her fellow House members to concur with the changes made by the Senate in order to save her original bill.  It was placed on the calendar twice this week, but not voted on because it didn’t have the votes.  It has now been placed on Monday’s calendar.  It’s anyone’s guess as to whether it will actually be voted on.

June 19, 2015 Womble Legislative Update

A contentious week on Jones Street ends on a sad note.  As the General Assembly takes up (or doesn’t) issues relating to abortion, economic incentives, access to guns, access to healthcare, tax fairness, Medicaid reform and other high stakes issues, the Legislative Building fills with passionate protesters seeking to influence the outcomes. Moral Monday arrests continue – although you can’t guarantee it will be on a Monday – and emotions are running high.  Now every legislative office contains a “panic button” that alerts on-site police. Now there are velvet ropes between the public and the 14 foot high brass doors to the legislative chambers. And for the first time we can remember the Fire Marshall is actually enforcing the occupancy limits in those overstuffed, sweltering committee rooms. This week Jones Street had that uneasy feeling.


The divide in the State House over access to handguns is a deep one.  After a number of starts, the House passed a much-softened version of HB 562 – Amend Firearms Laws largely along party lines.  A bipartisan coalition successfully amended the bill eight times during a floor debate that lasted hours.  Those amendments included rejecting a new provision to end the pistol permit application system run by sheriffs, as well as rejecting a proposal to allow legislators and staff at the General Assembly with concealed carry permits to carry their guns at the General Assembly. Rep. Jeff Collins argued that allowing legislators and staff to carry concealed handguns would serve as a deterrent to those wanting to incite violence in the halls. Rep. Leo Daughtry suggested that the legislature is where issues are decided by debate, “there are some places we don’t need guns.” (whew!) The bill is now in the Senate Rules Committee.

NC Connection to Charleston Tragedy

After a lengthy and emotional week of debate over the gun bill, members cheered when they learned that the suspect in the Charleston church shooting had been apprehended in North Carolina. But word spread quickly that the sister of former state senator Malcolm Graham was one of the nine victims. It was a sad end to the week.

A Blue Law Topples

A conference committee report for HB 640 – Outdoor Heritage Act will allow for lawful Sunday Hunting with a firearm on private property except between the traditional church hours of 9:30-12:30. Hunting on private hunting preserves is exempted from the hours restrictions. The House voted this week to approve the compromise and the Senate vote is expected next Tuesday.

Senate Budget

The Senate released its budget late Monday, reviewed it in three committees on Tuesday, then held floor debate and votes on Wednesday and Thursday.  It will now go to conference committee where House and Senate members will work together on a compromise budget.  But, don’t start holding your breath just yet, House Budget writer Chuck McGrady was heard to say we will be here until Labor Day.

Here are some of the differences between the House and Senate budgets that will need to be worked out in conference committee:

·         House: $22.2 billion (an increase of about 5%)
·         Senate: $21.47 billion (an increase of about 2%)

·         House: Includes the historic preservation tax credit and $40 million a year for film grants
·         Senate: No historic preservation tax credit and $10 million a year for film grants

·         House: 2% raises for all teachers and state employees
·         Senate: Raise starting teacher salary to $35,000; No across the board state employee raises

·         House: $73 million on textbooks and digital curriculum resources
·         Senate: $29 on textbooks and digital curriculum resources

·         House: 30% increase in DMV fees
·         Senate: 20% increase in DMV fees

The Senate plan also included several policy proposals that weren’t in the House budget, including:

·         A Medicaid reform plan- see below

·         A plan to redistribute the sales taxes from more populous and affluent counties to more rural counties

·         A tax plan that will reduce personal and corporate income taxes, reduce tax exemptions for nonprofits and expand the sales tax base

Dueling Medicaid Reform

As we had heard, the Senate budget proposal did, in fact, include a Medicaid reform proposal to transition the program to full-risk capitated health plans.  In their version, Medicaid would be removed from the Department of Health and Human Services and would be overseen by a new Health Benefits Authority which would be run by an appointed board.  The appointed board would contract with three private healthcare management providers who would serve Medicaid patients state-wide.  In addition, the state would be divided into six regions and offer contracts to two local provider-led organizations in each region.

Meanwhile, as the Senate’s Medicaid reform proposal was presented in the budget this week, the House was busy getting its own proposal through the committee process.  HB 372 – 2015 Medicaid Modernization – received approval in the House Appropriations Committee this week and is scheduled to be voted on by the full House next week.  In contrast to the Senate plan, the House plan leaves Medicaid within the Department of Health and Human Services.  Provider-led entities would be the only organizations allowed to operate health plans, with full capitation being phased in over five years.  This plan has the support of the Department of Health and Human Services, the North Carolina Hospital Association, and the NC Medical Society.

Voter ID

HB 836 was originally filed with the title “Local Government Regulatory Reform.”  However, once it got to the Senate, it was given a new title: “Election Modifications.”  When a compromise emerged this week, it included provisions for local government regulatory reform AND provisions for election modifications.  It ALSO included brand new language softening the Voter ID law passed in 2013 -- currently the subject of state and federal lawsuits.

The new language creates a new exception for presenting photo ID at the polls, allowing a voter to cast a provisional ballot if he or she can’t comply with the photo ID requirement due to a reasonable impediment.  Eight reasons can be claimed, including lack of transportation, disability or illness, lost or stolen photo ID, and lack of a birth certificate to obtain a photo ID.  The voter must also present identification in the form of a copy of a current utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck, other government document, voter registration card, or the last four digits of the voter’s social security number and the voter’s date of birth.

Democrats in both chambers were caught off guard by the change and unhappy with the process, but then voted overwhelmingly with Republicans to approve it given the improvement over current law.

Rep Rick Glazier announces his departure from the NC House

The House Losing a Lion

Rep. Rick Glazier announced he will leave the General Assembly at the end of the session after seven terms representing Cumberland County in the House of Representatives. This is no normal retirement. In each term, regardless of the political party in control, Democratic Rep. Glazier has been rated by his peers as one of the most effective legislators. His unmatched careful review of every bill considered by the House, and his willingness and ability to improve even legislation he may not support has earned him the respect of all. When the Speaker recognizes him to debate a bill, everyone perks up and pays attention; he is one of the few who can change the outcome of a vote with his floor debate.

June 12, 2015 Womble Legislative Update

The Senate needed a little more time to put the finishing touches on its budget, so we didn’t get to see it this week.  We’re now expecting it to be released on Monday and passed by the Senate by the end of the week. 

Veto Override

On Thursday, the House overrode the Governor’s veto of SB 2 Magistrates Recusal for Civil Ceremonies, first approving an often-criticized motion precluding debate before the vote was put to the members. The Governor and House Leadership had been jockeying against one another for members’ support since the May 28th veto, with a margin so close that both sides were taking constant attendance. The final vote of 69 to 41 was a three vote cushion for the override with notable divergence from a party-line vote.  Three Republicans supported the Governor: Rick Catlin of New Hanover County, Leo Daughtry of Johnston County and Paul Tine (former Democrat) of Dare County.  Three rural Democrats voted with the Republican majority to override: William Brisson of Bladen County, Charles Graham of Robeson County and Ken Waddell of Columbus County – these Democrats had previously supported the bill.

Economic Development

The Senate has at last unveiled its economic development plan which includes lowering personal and corporate income taxes and expansion of the sales tax base.  The Senate stripped the language from the economic development bill backed by the House and Governor and inserted new language for its plan, which was presented to the Senate Commerce Committee on Wednesday.  No votes have been taken yet.

Some highlights of the plan include:

  • Reduction of corporate income tax rate to 4% effective January 1, 2016; 3% effective January 1, 2017
  • Repeals the privilege tax on banks
  • Phase-in of single sales factor over three years
  • Reduction of the franchise tax rate to $1.00 per $1,000, effective in 2017
  • Reduction of personal income tax rate to 5.5% in 2016
  • Expansion of sales tax base to include repair/maintenance services, pet car/veterinary services, and advertising services
  • Phase-down of the nonprofit sales tax refund
  • New formula for local sales tax distribution to give more to rural counties
  • Cap on total local sales tax rate at 2.5%
A final economic development bill will result from a compromise between the House and Senate on the competing plans.

The Senate’s proposed committee substitute for HB 117 can be found here:

Medicaid Reform

Another issue that the House and Senate have differing plans for is Medicaid reform.  While we’ve been hearing that the Senate budget will include a Medicaid reform proposal to allow private managed care companies to compete with provider-led organizations, the House has decided to move its Medicaid reform bill that excludes managed care companies.  HB 372 – 2015 Medicaid Modernization – received a favorable report in House Health Committee and now heads to House Appropriations.  Supported by the North Carolina Hospital Association, NC Medical Society, and the Department of Health and Human Services, the bill would transition the Medicaid program from fee-for-service to full-risk capitated health plans operated by provider-led entities to manage and coordinate the care over the course of five years.  Private managed care companies do not have a role in this framework.

The two chambers were unable to reach a compromise last year on Medicaid reform, but both insist that reform is imperative.  This long session might really live up to its name this year!

Residential Design Controls

SB 25 – Zoning/Design & Aesthetic Controls – has been approved by the legislature and sent to the Governor for his signature.  The new law will prohibit cities and counties from adopting regulations controlling building design elements for one- and two-family dwellings.  This would include:

  • Exterior building color
  • Type or style of exterior cladding materials
  • Style or materials of roof structure or porches
  • Exterior nonstructural architectural ornamentation
  • Location and architectural styling of windows or doors
  • Number, type, and interior layout of rooms
Exceptions include if the dwellings are located in historic districts, where regulation is substantially related to applicable safety codes, and where regulations are a condition of participation in the National Flood Insurance Program.

June 5, 2015 Womble Legislative Update

It’s June – the month the legislature logically should be wrapping up along with the state’s fiscal year but we’re nowhere close. There are still big fights ahead on budget, taxes, economic development tools, solar produced energy, and Medicaid. Stay tuned.


This week the House and Senate undertook to override two bills vetoed by the Governor:

HB 405 – Property Protection Act – sometimes referred to as “ag gag” was enacted this week as the House and Senate both voted with the required supermajorities to override the Governor’s Veto.  The new law goes into effect January 1, 2016 as prescribed in the bill.  Proponents of the bill argue that it strengthens protections for trade secrets.  Opponents argue it will have a chilling effect on whistleblowers.

SB 2 – Magistrates Recusal for Civil Ceremonies – was overridden by the Senate early in the week but the House has not yet acted.  The original House vote for the bill (on May 28th) was 67-43 with 10 members not voting.  If all House members were present and voting they would require 72 votes to override the Governor’s Veto.  But our experience has been that a vote to override a veto and a vote for a bill are not the same thing so the support does not always correlate.  In this case we hear the numbers are very close in the House and currently favor the Governor, but any member’s absence changes the whole equation.  So the Governor and the Speaker are both lobbying members and urging good attendance.  In a situation like this we expect the Speaker to continue to list the bill on the calendar until the right combination of members are in the chamber and then hold the vote.  That’s right, we think it’s just a matter of time.

The Right to Bear Arms

Another controversial bill making its way through the House is HB 462 – Amend Firearm Laws – which makes some changes to current law such as removing some misdemeanors from the list of convictions that prohibit a person from obtaining a concealed handgun permit, having most misdemeanor convictions count against a person for only three years for purposes of obtaining a concealed handgun permit; stalking convictions would count for 5 years; domestic violence convictions and assault on a law enforcement officer would permanently prohibit obtaining a concealed handgun permit.  The bill would repeal the pistol purchase permit effective 2021, and bill includes several other provisions.  A version of the bill was examined and passed by a House Judiciary Committee in early April, and it has bounced around various committees ever since.  Wednesday the latest version of the bill was considered by the House Rules Committee (which is usually a slam-dunk spot for approval) but the motion to give the new version of the bill a favorable report passed only when the Chairman voted to break the tie.  The bill is calendared for full House consideration on Monday and we expect a fight.  Don’t bring a knife to a gun fight.  Don’t shoot the messenger.

Still Curbing Voter Fraud

HB 100 – Record Excusals from Jury Duty – heads to a second Senate Committee.  The Senate is considering a bill the House passed last week that requires excusals from jury duty be recorded and reported to the State Board of Elections since many of the reasons a person isn’t eligible for jury duty (i.e. felony conviction) would also prohibit that person from legally voting in NC.  This voting rights bill is moving through the General Assembly with very little controversy but plenty of interest.

Environmental Protection

HB 795 – SEPA Reform – bill differences between the House and Senate versions were resolved and a conference report has been adopted. It awaits ratification and the Governor’s signature.  Environmentalists are asking the Governor to veto the bill which would increase the thresholds for when the State Environmental Policy Act applies and increase the number of exemptions for the Act.  No word yet on what the Governor plans to do with the bill.

Abortion Wait Times

HB 465 – Women and Children’s Protection Act of 2015 – gained final legislative approval this week and was sent to the Governor who announced that he would sign the bill into law. Pro Choice advocates argue this violates a campaign promise made by McCrory in 2012 that he wouldn’t sign any further restrictions on abortion into law.

The bill extends the waiting period for an abortion in NC from 24 hours to 72 hours and contains a new provision that requires doctors who perform abortions after the 16th week to send ultrasounds, measurements, and other information to the NC Department of Health and Human Services so that the state can ensure no abortions are being illegally  performed after 20 weeks.  Several bipartisan provisions were added that would increase the safety of women and children, including one to clarify who can be charged with statutory rape or sexual offenses.

ABC Law Changes

HB 909 – ABC Omnibus Legislation – was also sent to the Governor’s desk this week.  The bill makes changes to ABC laws in the state, including banning powdered alcohol and allowing restaurants to fill take-home growlers with wine.  One controversial provision would allow distilleries to sell containers of their own liquor to distillery visitors which would mark the first time in North Carolina since Prohibition that bottles of liquor would be sold by any entity other than via an ABC store.  While there was plenty of disagreement about that one provision, bill proponents argued that it would be good for the industry and that job creation would follow the growth.

Retention Elections

HB 222 – Retention Elections/Supreme Court – received concurrence approval in the House and now awaits ratification and the Governor’s signature.

Up Next Week

In the House: guns and a veto override on the House floor; state legislation implementing new federal law called The ABLE Act in committee.

In the Senate: budget and tax cuts for economic development.

May 29, 2015 Legislative Update


Within 24 hours, Governor McCrory has vetoed two bills sent to his desk by the General Assembly.  Both bills will now go back to the legislature for each chamber to consider whether they will attempt to override the veto.  A veto override requires the support of three-fifths of the members present and voting in both chambers.

  • SB 2Magistrates Recusal for Civil Ceremonies – would allow magistrates to refuse to perform marriages without fear of being fired by citing a “sincerely held religious objection.”  Once their objection is submitted in writing, they would be barred from performing any marriage for six months or until they removed their objection.  The bill also applies to registers of deeds who issue marriage certificates.  While the Senate has the support to override the veto, the House passed the bill by a vote of 67-43, which is barely above the three-fifths threshold; the veto override will start in the Senate.  Also a factor, ten House members were absent and didn’t vote.  This bill arose from magistrates being required to perform gay marriages.

  • HB 405Property Protection Act – is commonly referred to by opponents as the “ag-gag” bill because they believe the bill is specifically intended to prevent undercover investigations of farms and agriculture facilities.  The bill allows employers to sue employees who use their positions to gain access to documents or to secretly record areas that aren’t open to the public.  McCrory explained, “I am concerned that subjecting these employees to potential civil penalties will create an environment that discourages them from reporting illegal activities.”  The bill easily cleared the three-fifths threshold in both the House and Senate when it was initially passed but a veto override effort will begin in the House.  The Governor’s office was flooded with calls to veto this bill, and the First Lady has made puppy mill legislation her top priority.

Retention Elections

HB 222Retention Elections/Supreme Court – was approved by the Senate on Thursday.  The bill calls for retention elections—where a “yes” or “no” vote would be given instead of an election between opponents— for sitting members of the NC Supreme Court, reasoning that it would cut down on the high costs of judicial campaigns if sitting judges didn’t have to run against opponents.  It would also prevent sitting judges from having to raise campaign money from individuals who might appear before them in court.  The original House version of the bill also applied to the state Court of Appeals, but the Senate removed that provision.

Senate Democrats were suspicious of the timing for this bill, noting that retention elections would begin in 2016 when only one member of the Supreme Court, Justice Bob Edmunds, a Republican, faces re-election.  Senator Josh Stein called it “the Justice Bob Edmunds Protection Act” since it would begin in 2016 when Edmunds is up.  However, Senate Republicans argued that having only one sitting judge up for re-election makes for a great opportunity to test out the new type of election.

The bill will now go back to the concurrence in the Senate changes.

Abortion Law

HB 465Women and Children’s Protection Act of 2015 – gained initial approval in the Senate on Thursday and will receive a final vote on Monday.  The bill extends the waiting period for an abortion in NC from 24 hours to 72 hours and contains a new provision that requires doctors who perform abortions during weeks 19 and 20 to send ultrasounds, measurements, and other information to the NC Department of Health and Human Services so that the state can ensure no abortions are being performed after 16 weeks.  The Senate also added in several bipartisan provisions aimed at the safety of women and children, including two provisions that were introduced in bill-form earlier this session by Senator Jeff Jackson which would strengthen laws for statutory rape and sex offenders.  This resulted in complaints from Democrats and calls to divide the bill and vote separately on the issues.  However, the bill was voted on in its entirety by a vote of 31-15. 

Once the bill receives its expected final Senate approval on Monday, it will be sent back to the House for approval. We haven’t yet heard if the House will accept the changes.

Senate Budget Underway

Senate appropriations subcommittees met all week to review the House budget.  Senators adopted a schedule for approving its version of the budget on June 11.  This would leave two full legislative weeks for a conference committee to develop a compromise budget and for the compromise to be approved by both chambers on June 30, which is the final day of the fiscal year.

While the House budget increased spending by about 6%, Senate leaders have said that they will limit any budget growth to 3%. 
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