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.
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.
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.