January 30, 2015

Legislative Update:
And they are off -- sort of


The North Carolina General Assembly convened on Jan. 14 to begin its current session and to choose the leadership in both the House and Senate chambers.

Phil Berger (R-District 26) will remain the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, and Tim Moore (R- District 111) is now Speaker of the House, replacing former Speaker Thom Tillis, who was elected to the U.S. Senate in November, beating Kay Hagan.

The legislative members returned to work on Jan. 28 and 29 to complete legislative housekeeping issues, such as committee and seat assignments and to file the first of what is expected to be a long list of bills over the coming months.

Sen. Bill Cook (R-District 1) has been appointed to the following standing committees: co-chair Agriculture/Environment/Natural Resources and of the Appropriations on Natural and Economic Resources; member of Commerce; Education/Higher Education, Finance, Judiciary II and Program Evaluation. He also now sits as a member of the following non-standing committees: Committee on Cultural and Natural Resources, Joint Legislative Education Oversight Committee, Environmental Review Commission and the Joint Legislative Transportation Oversight Committee.

Rep. Paul Tine (U-District 6), who recently changed his party affiliation from Democratic, will serve on the following standing committees: chairman of both Appropriations and Transportation; vice-chairman of the Appropriations and Insurance committees; member of Commerce and Job Development, Education – Community Colleges, Judiciary I, Rules, Calendar and Operations of the House, Transportation and Wildlife Resources.

Tine also is assigned to the following non-standing committees as a member: Joint Study Committee on the Affordable Care Act and Implementation Issues; Committee on Funeral and Cemetery Regulation, Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Information Technology, Committee on Public Enterprise Systems and Use of Funds, Joint Legislative Transportation Oversight Committee and Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Unemployment Insurance.

Rep. Bob Steinburg (R-District 1) is chair of the standing committee on Agriculture; member of the Commerce and Job Development Committee, Environment, Finance, Judiciary I, Transportation and Wildlife Resources. He will chair the non-standing Committee on Chowanoke Nation Recognition and will be an advisory member of the Joint Legislative Education Oversight Committee.

During the brief two-day session, a total of 47 bills were filed, including resolutions and local bills as well as a couple of place-holders which are blank bills that legislators can use later to file language that generally is of local interest to their respective districts. 

Although the General Assembly is set to reconvene on Monday, Feb. 2, legislative leadership has announced that no further action will be taken on bills again until after Gov. Pat McCrory's State of the State address, scheduled at 7 p.m. on Feb. 4.

The following bills are some that will be awaiting legislative actions.

House Bill 8 seeks to make elections of judges to the Appeals Court and the Supreme Court partisan races. Currently, the nonpartisan races are pared down to two candidates for the General Election by holding a primary of all candidates. The two receiving the most votes have their names placed on the November ballot. If passed, the proposed change would prompt partisan primary races with one candidate from each party winning a spot on the General Election ballot. This has passed first reading and been sent to the House Elections Committee for further review. Steinburg is one of the bill's sponsors.

House Bill 24 that seeks to apply more changes to the Unemployment Insurance is co-sponsored by Tine. The bill proposes changing the name of the Employment Security Commission to Division of Employment Security and placing it under the Department of Commerce. If passed and signed into law, the bill would allow the state to garnish credit card receipts from businesses failing to pay their unemployment insurance tax.

To receive unemployment benefits, identification would be required and claimants would have to make at least five contacts per week in an effort to obtain employment.

The bill also seeks to eliminate the minimum number of weeks that benefits can be drawn and the maximum length would be tied to statewide seasonally adjusted unemployment rates. There also would be new rules that would govern how and when seasonal workers may receive benefits.

Senate Bill 3 seeks to eliminate payroll deductions for state employees' dues to employee associations. An attempt last year to eliminate such deductions from educators' paychecks was slapped down by the court as discriminatory. This proposal would apply to all state workers and the groups that represent them.

Two bills are aimed at getting tougher with those convicted of driving while impaired.

House Bill 32, if made into law, would reduce the number of drunk driving offenses from three to two in order to be deemed a habitual impaired driver.

House Bill 31 seeks to reduce alcohol level from .04 to zero for those mandated by the courts to use an ignition interlock system after being found guilty of driving while impaired.

Two bills propose to roll back laws passed last session. 

H26 seeks to reinstate the Sales Tax Holiday traditionally used to buy school supplies, while H27 would, if passed into law, restore the Earned Income Tax Credit. The Budget and Tax Center reports that 2,771 families in Dare County received the earned income tax credit before it was repealed. The estimated total of payments to those families in 2013 was $270,172.

Two bills, if passed, are almost guaranteed to be challenged in the court system.

Filed in the Senate, S2 would give magistrates, and assistant and deputy Registers of Deeds the right to recuse themselves from performing “all lawful marriages based upon any sincerely held religious objection.” Cook was one of the sponsors of the proposed legislation.

H30 would remove transparency related to the identity of state lottery winners and the amounts that they win.

(Sandy Semans is a retired newspaper editor and reporter who now works as a free-lance writer.  She lives in Stumpy Point. Her update on the goings-on in this session of the General Assembly will appear weekly in The Island Free Press, usually on Friday.)


First bill filed would prohibit condemning property for economic development

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