Senate Budget writers continued to meet privately throughout the week. Senate leadership sharply criticized the House budget surmising that it spends far too much, a roughly 6% overall increase in spending from the previous year. The Senate budget is expected to scale back the total spend to around a 2% increase from the previous year, much closer to the total spend of the Governor’s proposed budget. This is interesting because it goes without saying that the Senate and Governor haven’t exactly seen eye-to-eye over the last few years on a number of issues. However, the Governor’s budget was submitted before the “April surprise” which increased revenue availability.
Senate and McCrory Unlikely Budget Allies – Carolina Journal
The original schedule released last week by the Senate said the Appropriations Subcommittees will begin their public work early next week with floor votes Wednesday and Thursday. However, Senior Appropriations Chairman Sen. Brown (R-Onslow) indicated Thursday that there may be some delay to the budget process, which is likely due to a number of major policy changes said to be included as well as a rumored large, unanticipated deficit in the Medicaid budget. The halls of the North Carolina General Assembly are notorious for being a rumor mill, but policy changes said to be floated in the Senate budget include Medicaid Reform, repealing Certificate of Need (CON), more tax changes, economic incentives, and those are just the big ones.
The House voted on Wednesday to concur 71-43 with Senate changes to House Bill 465, legislation sponsored by Rep. Schaffer (R-Mecklenburg) entitled the Women and Children's Protection Act of 2015. The bill would among other provisions, require women who request an abortion to wait 72 hours before the abortion could be performed and put limitations on which doctors can perform them. The bill was turned into an omnibus bill that includes a provision to close a loophole in the laws around statutory rape, applying to victims 15 years old and younger instead of current law that applies to those that are 13,14 and 15 years of age. A second provision adds sex offenders that are convicted in other states or in federal court to the list of people not allowed near playgrounds.
In the Senate last week, a motion by Sen. Stein (D-Wake) to divide the vote, allowing members to separately vote on the child protection provisions and the abortion provisions, was denied. The same motion was made in the House by Rep. Michaux (D-Durham) and was allowed to proceed. The motion itself however failed and as a parliamentary rule, Speaker Moore (R-Cleveland) announced that future requests for division on concurrence votes would not be allowed due to the chamber’s constitutional requirement to either concur or not concur with the entire bill.
House Bill 562 entitled Amend Firearms Laws, also sponsored by Rep. Schaffer, contains a number of provisions making changes to gun laws in the State. Although the language was slightly watered down, opponents still raised a number of concerns with the legislation. Among the provisions were changes allowing lawmakers and legislative staff holding concealed carry permits to carry weapons at the legislative complex. A controversial provision in the previous version that would have made it an offense for health care providers to inquire whether a patient was carrying or owned a firearm was one of the diluted provisions. It now requires only that written questionnaires furnished by health care providers have a disclaimer that the patient is not required to answer.
The most prominent objection came from the NC Sheriff’s Association which opposes the provision to end handgun permitting by local sheriff’s departments in favor of using the federal National Instant Criminal Background Check System. The Governor is also opposed to the handgun permitting changes and said that he cannot support the legislation in its current form, hinting at a possible veto if that section is not changed. A tied vote in the House Rules Committee was broken by the Chair, Rep. Lewis (R-Harnett) who voted “aye” to pass it out of Committee by one vote. The bill has been calendared for Monday evening.
The House Finance Committee debated House Bill 328, sponsored by Rep. Warren (R-Rowan), on Tuesday but did not take a vote. HB 328 would allow workers in the country illegally to acquire a temporary, restricted driver’s license, provided that they pass a driving test and obtain insurance coverage. The bill has drawn sharp criticism from anti-illegal immigration groups. Finance Chairman Rep. Saine (R-Lincoln) said that the bill would come up for a vote in another meeting.
The Senate gave its approval to House Bill 560 a bill that makes it is a felony to assault healthcare providers who are providing services in a hospital. A Proposed Committee Substitute (PCS) in the Judiciary I Committee broadened the definition of those protected under the bill from just those in the emergency department to include all hospital personnel. The Committee then narrowed the language for the protections to apply to hospital personnel that provide healthcare services to patients in a hospital, excluding custodians, gift shop employees, etc. The bill passed 47-1 and awaits concurrence in the House.
The House concurred 79-32 with the Senate changes to House Bill 909, now entitled ABC Omnibus Legislation. The bill contains a number of provisions regarding ABC laws in NC including a ban on powdered alcohol as well as a provision that would allow distilleries that give tours to sell one commemorative bottle of liquor at the distillery per year to an individual that takes the tour. This will be the first time since prohibition that a bottle of spirituous liquor could be legally sold outside of an ABC store in North Carolina. The bill now awaits action from the Governor.
The House also concurred 65-49 with the Senate changes to House Bill 222, which allows sitting Supreme Court Justices to run for reelection in retention elections instead of competitive, expensive battles against an opponent. The bill the House sent over included members of the Court of Appeals, but that section was removed in the Senate so that it now applies only to the Supreme Court. The change caused all fifteen House Democrats that voted with Republicans to pass the initial bill to change their vote to “no” on concurrence. The only seat on the Supreme Court up in the 2016 election is currently held by a Republican and the bill now awaits action from the Governor.
Legislature backs up-or-down vote for NC high court justices – Blue Ridge Now
The House voted not to concur with the Senate changes to House Bill 640, the Sunday hunting bill sponsored by Rep. Dixon (R-Duplin). The version that came over from the House would have allowed hunting on Sunday provided that hunters are more than 500 yards away from a place of worship and on private property with permission of the landowner. The revised Senate version says that hunting with a gun cannot take place before noon on Sunday. North Carolina law currently permits Sunday bow hunting. HB 640 now goes to Conference Committee to resolve the differences between the two chambers.
Legislation in the News:
Environmental Reviews to be Less Costly for Businesses – Jones & Blount
Vetos & Overrides
On Monday, the Senate voted to override Gov. McCrory’s (R) veto of Senate Bill 2, sponsored by Sen. Berger (R-Rockingham), which would allow magistrates to recuse themselves from performing all marriages for a six month period, based on religious beliefs. The bill passed 32-16 just as it did on its initial passage, but a few votes changed. Sen. Ford (D-Mecklenburg), one of two Democrats to initially vote in favor of the legislation, changed his vote on the override. The House originally calendared the bill for a Wednesday override attempt, but did not have the necessary votes and thus did not take any action. Speaker Moore (R-Cleveland) has resurrected the “veto garage”, a tactic that his predecessor put into practice to bring an override up for a vote at an opportune time. It was again calendared for Thursday and included a recess for caucus to count the votes, but again the total came up short.
Sen. Ford to switch vote on magistrate override – Charlotte Observer
Both the House and Senate were successful in overriding House Bill 405, sponsored by Rep. Szoka (R-Cumberland), which is officially entitled the Property Protection Act and unofficially called, “Ag Gag” by opponents. The bill allows businesses to sue employees who obtain employment solely for an “undercover investigation” to expose business practices. The bill has drawn criticism from a number of organizations, but chiefly from animal rights groups who claim the bill would prevent employees from exposing the treatment of animals at less than reputable farms and slaughterhouses. Proponents claim there are adequate protections for “whistleblowers”, legitimate employees who did not seek the employment with ulterior motives that expose such abusive actions or practices. The two chambers overrode the Governor’s veto in a bipartisan manner within an hour of each other, 33-15 in the Senate and 79-36 in the House.
In Other News
- Thursday, Governor McCrory pardoned two half-brothers who spent more than thirty years on death row and were exonerated last year. The two were convicted in 1983 for the rape and murder of an 11 year-old girl, but DNA tests last year revealed that the two were innocent. The pardons, which have been on Gov. McCrory’s desk for nine months, were necessary for the two men to collect compensation for their improper sentencing. Read more in the N&O here.
- The North Carolina Transportation Board released the State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP), a list of more than a thousand transportation projects approved to move forward during the next decade. View the projects here.
- State Senator Buck Newton (R-Wilson) announced a long anticipated run for the office of North Carolina Attorney General. The open seat is being vacated by incumbent Roy Cooper (D) who recently “unofficially” announced a run for Governor. It is unlikely that Sen. Newton will be the only State Senator running for Attorney General as Sen. Stein (D-Wake) is also expected to make a run and Sen. Barringer (R-Wake) has hinted at the notion as well. Read more in the Rock Mountain Telegram here.
- North Carolina Secretary of Transportation Tony Tata (R) is considering a run for Congress in the State’s 3rd Congressional District, currently occupied by longtime Rep. Walter Jones (R). Sec. Tata is a retired Army General and former Superintendent of the Wake County School System who was appointed by Gov. McCrory in 2013 to his current post. The challenge would mean an intense primary battle with North Carolina’s second most senior Congressman, having represented Eastern North Carolina in Congress since 1995. Sec. Tata currently resides in Cary, NC which is not located within the boundaries of the 3rd District, but does not need to move into the District to run there. Read more in the N&O here.