Senate Begins Budget Drafting Process
The Senate began its budget process last week, releasing a draft schedule to senators outlining precisely how the General Assembly can have a budget in place by June 30th. Senate budget leaders have already indicated that the body’s spending plan will differ markedly from the $22.2 billion House proposal, which House members approved on May 22. The spending targets released in the Senate budget subcommittees last week show a broad range of decreases from the total amounts budgeted in the House: 4.7 percent less for courts and public safety, 4.9 percent less for public schools, 2.9 percent less for the university system, and 0.3 percent less for health and human services. The Senate’s proposal will likely spend about $500 million less than the House budget in all and will include additional income tax reductions. In addition, the Senate budget will likely include appropriations for Medicaid reform and eliminate transfers of the highway trust fund.
View the Senate 2015 Appropriations Schedule here
House, Senate Override Governor’s Vetoes
Last week, Governor Pat McCrory (R-NC) vetoed two bills which prompted the House and Senate to hold debates this week on overriding those vetoes. Doing so requires at least a three-fifths vote in both chambers. On Monday night, the Senate voted 32-16 to override the governor’s veto of Senate Bill 2, Magistrates Recusal for Civil Ceremonies, which allows magistrates to opt out of performing marriage ceremonies due to sincerely held religious beliefs. In vetoing the bill, the governor said that while he recognized many North Carolinian’s had sincerely held beliefs dictating that marriage was between one man and one woman, he felt that “we are a nation and a state of laws...and no public official who voluntarily swears to support and defend the Constitution should be exempt from that oath.” Following the Senate’s Monday night vote to override the measure, it now awaits an override vote in the House which could come as early as next week.
The other bill the governor vetoed was House Bill 405, Property Protection Act, which would protect property owners (employers) by enacting civil penalties for people who take or record information that “substantially interferes” with the rights of the property owner. The governor vetoed the measure late Friday afternoon, catching many news outlets unaware. He issued a statement saying that although “the bill’s intent is laudable, its content falls short of ensuring protections for honest employees who uncover criminal activity.” The House voted to override the veto Wednesday night in a 79-36 vote, with the Senate following suit less than an hour later with a 33-15 vote. The bill became law as soon as the override occurred and will go into effect on January 1.
Governor Signs Handful of Bills
Gov. McCrory signed a number of bills into law this week. Those bills are as follows:
Gun Bill Advances in House
The House Rules committee gave approval on Wednesday to House Bill 562, Amend Firearm Laws, which makes a number of changes to North Carolina’s gun laws. Passed out of the Rules committee Wednesday in a close 14-13 vote in which Rules committee Chairman Representative David Lewis (R-Harnett) cast the tie-breaking vote, the proposed committee substitute (PCS) for the bill would eliminate the state’s pistol permit system by October 1, 2021, which requires handgun buyers to obtain permits from their local sheriff before purchasing a firearm. Supporters of the bill say most people who wish to buy a handgun would already be subject to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) and that the federal system would allow for a more streamlined and less arbitrary process. Bill sponsor Rep. Jacqueline Schaffer (R-Mecklenburg) said that the bill “in no way attempts to remove background checks…on the contrary, it is designed to strengthen them.”
Critics, however, urged lawmakers to keep the current system in place, saying that it allows for greater access to a criminal’s history than the national system and also allows sheriff’s to ask questions not covered by standard background checks. Eddie Caldwell, executive vice president and general counsel of the North Carolina Sherriff’s Association, said that the current pistol permitting system provides “much greater safety to the public than a NICS check,” and urged members to keep the current system in place. Ryan Minto, one of Gov. McCrory’s lobbyists, said that the governor opposes the repeal of the pistol permitting system and would not support the bill “in its current form.”
In addition to repealing the state’s pistol permitting system, the PCS that passed Wednesday would allow district attorneys and judges with concealed carry permits to carry their firearms in court, would allow both legislators and legislative employees who have concealed carry permits to carry in the State Legislative Building and would allow a person with a concealed carry permit to carry a firearm on their person within a locked vehicle on educational grounds.
The bill also would authorize the Commissioner of Agriculture to prohibit the carrying of firearms on the State Fairgrounds during the State Fair, eliminate some misdemeanors convictions that prohibit a person from obtaining a concealed carry permit, and allow the use of suppressors on short barreled rifles. Other provisions include requiring medical forms which ask for information on a patient’s firearm possession to include a notice stating that a patient is not required to provide that information and a provision reducing the offense for carrying a concealed handgun on private property from a misdemeanor to an infraction with a maximum fine of $500.
Read the PCS summary for H562 here
House Bill 909, ABC Omnibus Legislation Sent to Governor
The House voted 81-29 Thursday to give final approval to House Bill 909, ABC Omnibus Legislation, which expands North Carolina’s alcohol laws to allow distilleries to sell bottled liquor outside of ABC stores, among other provisions. The measure now heads to Gov. McCrory. H909 started as a proposal dealing with antique spirituous liquor, but after the House approved that proposal, the Senate added seven more sections, renamed it ABC Omnibus Legislation, approved it and sent it back to the House for concurrence. Most notably, the Senate added a provision allowing distilleries to sell liquor by the bottle, though distillers would only be allowed to sell one bottle per drinking age patron per year.
The House ABC committee met Wednesday afternoon to consider concurrence, with members speaking on both sides of the issue. Bill sponsors Rep. Mike Hager (R-Rutherford) and Rep. John Bell IV (R-Wayne) described the bill as a positive for North Carolina’s growing distillery industry and said that it would generate a number of new jobs. Rep. Leo Daughtry (R-Johnston) however urged members not to concur with the changes and said he was disappointed that the bill included proposals which had not been vetted by the ABC committee.
The bill’s other provisions include banning the sale, possession and consumption of powdered alcohol, a provision allowing shops and restaurants to fill take-home growlers with wine and a measure which allows alternating proprietorships at breweries.
Read H909 here
Governor to Sign Bill Extending Abortion Waiting Period
The House gave its final approval Wednesday to House Bill 465, Women and Children’s Protection Act of 2015, which adds additional rules surrounding abortions in North Carolina, primarily one extending the waiting period for women who wish to obtain the procedure from 24 hours to 72 hours. The bill also includes provisions expanding the definition of statutory rape to cover all children under 15, a section making it easier to collect child support payments through administrative changes and a stipulation which specifies certain places that must be avoided by sex offenders registered in other states who come to North Carolina. H465 had previously been approved by the Senate on a vote of 32-16 on Monday and it cleared the House on Wednesday by a margin of 71-43. The measure now heads to Gov. McCrory for approval. Shortly following the House vote, the governor issued a statement saying that he would sign the bill into law.
House Bill 795, State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) Reform Passes House, Senate
House and Senate members gave approval to a compromise version of House Bill 795, State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) Reform on Thursday, after a lengthy conference committee process. Currently, SEPA requirements include providing environmental impact statements in projects involving public money or land, which can serve as a potential safe guard and way to understand alternatives to possible ecological harm. H795 reforms SEPA by making key changes to both when and under what circumstances environmental impact studies would be performed.
Last week, the Senate had given tentative approval of the measure in a 33-14 vote, including language that would have triggered environmental impact studies for projects exceeding $20 million or which disturbed more than 20 acres of land. The House bill set that cap at $10 million and five acres. After failing to concur with the changes the Senate had made to the bill, a conference committee was appointed to iron out the differences between the two chambers. The House passed the compromise version 74-40 on Thursday, with the Senate following suit minutes later 41-8. The bill will now be enrolled and sent to the governor, where environmentalists are calling on him to veto the bill. Molly Diggins, director of the N.C. Sierra Club said she felt the public deserved a “layer of protection when public funds or public lands are involved.”
Read the conference committee report for H795 here
House, Senate Leaders Oppose Governor’s Bond Proposal
House and Senate leaders made clear this week that their caucuses would not support a three billion dollar statewide bond package for transportation and infrastructure projects proposed by Gov. McCrory. House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) and Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) however, did say that legislators are still considering a smaller bond package, mainly for projects such as university facilities and state government buildings which would be presented to voters either in November of this year or some time next year.
Speaking to a small gathering of business owners at a National Federation of Independent Business event, both men said they favored a bond proposal much less than the three billion dollars proposed by the governor. Sen. Berger said that there was "some support for some bonds" in the Senate, but not to pay for transportation needs. Speaker Moore said he liked the concept of a bond package and felt with current low interest rates now was a great time to consider it, but said that his caucus would more likely support a bond referendum for capital projects such as state and university buildings, as opposed to transportation. The speaker added that any bond issue likely would be handled through separate legislation, rather than as a part of the state budget.
AA poll conducted in recent weeks by the Renew North Carolina Foundation, a non-profit political advocacy organization formed to boost the McCrory Administration's agenda, found strong statewide support for the governor’s proposal, so long as it didn’t raise taxes. The poll found that 67 percent of respondents said they would “probably or definitely” vote for the roads bond if the election was held today, while 12 percent would vote against it. On the infrastructure bonds for college buildings and ports, 69 percent said they would probably or definitely vote in favor, while 14 percent would vote against it. The poll found that the highest priority among respondents was for the money to go to bridges, roads and parks. The poll also found that Gov. McCrory’s job approval rating stands at 57 percent, with 32 percent disapproval, while the legislature has an approval rating of 47 percent with 36 percent disapproval.
Read the full poll here