March 20, 2015

Legislative Update:
Lawmakers keeping busy in Raleigh


Things were hopping on Jones Street this week with bills aimed at everything from minimum wage to sex.

A recent State Ethics Commission opinion  declared that sex between a legislator and lobbyist isn’t a conflict of interest because it has no value, and legislators filed a bill the week, apparently to clarify the point.

The bi-partisan legislation, House Bill 252, is an attempt to set the record straight. If passed into law, it will require a person to recuse himself or herself from legislative, executive, or official action if there is financial benefit for the official or lobbyist; if the covered person is married to a lobbyist; or the covered person has a current dating relationship or current sexual relationship with the lobbyist or liaison personnel.

Local officials have been watching for a bill that would redistribute the local sale tax revenues that are depended upon to help fund local budgets. That bill has not yet been filed, but if it is and becomes law, it has the potential to remove $10.8 million from Dare County’s coffers, as well as varying amounts from the municipalities’ budgets.

Many of the bills filed this week were ones that mirrored bills already filed in the other chamber.

Senate Bill 399, if passed into law, would require most employers to allow employees to accrue sick time to use for medical emergencies, domestic violence and stalking for themselves and for caring for their immediate families. The bill also would allow employers to require documentation from a health care worker or other appropriate person stating that it is necessary for the person to be excused from work.

SB 324 would loosen up building inspections and do away with requiring building permits for some projects costing less than $10,000. It also, if passed, would mandate that all fees collected for the activities of the inspections office shall be used for to support the activities of the inspection department and for no other purpose.

House Bill 278, if passed, would increase the amount of sales of small breweries from $25,000 to $100,000 before the brewery would have to use a wholesale distributor for sales.

HB 285 takes aim at redistricting from the top for the Congressional districts all the way down to the local districts for county elections. If passed into law, no county commissioner, city council, or local board of education district may be drawn to encompass a population that is more than five percent greater than the ideal population or more than five percent less than the ideal population. The “ideal population” for districts is the jurisdiction-wide population divided by the number of seats on the board.

HB 302, a bi-partisan bill of which Rep. Paul Tine is one of the primary sponsors, seeks to strengthen the oyster industry by studying oyster aquaculture, expanding oyster sanctuaries and stiffening penalties for taking oysters from sanctuaries. It also, if passed, would change the name of the Senator Jean Preston Marine Shellfish Sanctuary to Senator Jean Preston Oyster Sanctuary Network. The late Preston was a legislator from Carteret County who was a frequent champion of commercial fishing and water quality issues.

Realtors may be facing higher licensing fees if SB 294 becomes law. The bill proposes that the application for license fee for a real estate broker be increased from $30 to $100 unless the commission sets the cost higher through rulemaking. In the case of the latter, a $200 cap is imposed. And the fee may not increase by more than $10 during a 12-month period. The license renewal fee would rise from $30 to $45 unless the commission sets the cost higher, not to exceed $200.

SB 353, if it becomes law, defines what “practicing law” means and when it is prohibited by law. The bill also gives investigative authority to the North Carolina State Bar in suspected cases of practicing law without a license.

HB 271 defines what is an at-risk dog, dangerous dog and vicious dog and by whom they may be owned and under what conditions. It also would, if it becomes law, mandate that local boards be set up to review circumstances and determine if a dog should be subjected to one of the labels and the restrictions carried with each. Owners disagreeing with the board’s opinion could appeal it to a Superior Court judge.

SB 323, sponsored by Sen. Bill Cook, R-District 1, would remove all authority of the North Carolina State Bar over those serving as judges and, instead, make the Judicial Standards Commission the lone regulator.

Judicial Standards Commission ensures that judges comply with the Judicial Code of Conduct for that office. Judges found to have violated the Judicial Code of Conduct can face a range of penalties ranging from warnings to removal from the bench.

North Carolina State Bar oversees the conduct of all attorneys as prescribed by the Rules of Professional Conduct. Attorneys found guilty of not obeying the Rules of Professional Conduct can be penalized a number of ways, including loss of the right to practice law.

The bill was filed two days after the State Bar filed a complaint against Superior Court Judge Jerry Tillett, who accepted a public reprimand from the Judicial Standards Commission two years ago for the same issues.

(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.)


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Legislative Update: Lawmakers made hay while the sun was shining
Legislative Update: Bill on dredging causes local turmoil
Legislative Update:  156 new bills filed this week

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