NCGA Week in Review, 3/14-3/18

March 18, 2011

Pardon Our Dust

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Senate Passes Terminal Groins Legislation

The Senate gave its final approval this week to legislation that will allow terminal groins in our state after being banned in North Carolina for decades. The Senate voted 41-6 to pass the measure after adopting an amendment that reiterates that no state money would be allotted for the terminal groins. The bill now moves to the House for consideration.

While opponents believe that terminal groins won’t be able to stop natural forces and carry a high price tag, proponents argue that they will greatly help to slow down erosion, protect our state’s tourism industry and save significant money for taxpayers. Beach erosion at inlets is one of the most serious challenges facing the North Carolina coastline, affecting public infrastructure, homes, beach access and environmental habitat. As erosion at inlets threatens a vital part of our state’s economy, it is a timely and important issue for the General Assembly this session.

Debate Begins on Voter ID Issue

Committee hearings began this week on a bill that among other things would require voters to show photo identification at the polls. Current law requires voters to only give a name and address as identification confirmation upon voting. Under the proposal anyone who wants to vote in person would have to show one of eight valid photo ID cards, including a driver’s license, U.S. passport and new voter ID cards would be issued for free by county boards of elections.

To say the hearing was heated is an understatement. Debate occurred for over four hours where members heard public comments on both sides of the issue. Proponents argue that the proposal protects vote dilution, ensuring that voters have confidence that their vote is being counted against their names only. Opponents on the other hand say that the voter fraud is not a widespread problem and the measure would discourage people from voting who do not currently have a photo ID.

Aside from the voter ID requirement, the bill would also:

  • Clarify that a candidate is financially liable for civil penalties issued by the State Board of Elections if the candidate failed to correct a violation the campaign was alerted to that led to the fine.
  • Prohibit campaign contributions to a candidate by executives of companies that have a state contract of at least $25,000 in which the elected office the candidate is running for awards personally or whose agency awards the contract.
  • Limit the chairman of the State Board of Elections to serving no more than two, two-year terms.

New Version of Charter School Bill Moves Forward

The House began its consideration of a Senate bill this week aimed at eliminating the current cap of 100 charter schools in North Carolina.  Following opposition from the Democratic caucus, the House developed a new version of the proposal which requires charter schools to provide meal assistance to poor students and diminishes the autonomy of a the new independent commission overseeing the schools. Despite the negotiations Democrats still remained opposed to the bill in the House Education Committee where it passed this week along party lines, 27-21.

While Democrats on the committee praised Republicans for the bill’s changes, they still argued that the measure would result in a new round of failing charter schools. Proponents of the measure however strongly insist that charter schools operate successfully with less taxpayer funding than their district counterparts and that the majority of charter schools provide transportation and food and have student bodies that largely reflect the racial backgrounds of their traditional counterparts.
Proposal Implementing Speed Cameras Advances in the House

This week the House Transportation Committee this week approved a bill establishing a pilot program to use camera to catch speeders in up to 15 schools zones and 15 highway work zones. Under the 15 year program, speeders caught by cameras would face a civil fine of $250 by mail notification. The measure provides for 75 percent of the fines collected to go into a Civil Penalties Litigation Fund and be given to local schools on a per pupil basis with the other 25 percent going to existing schools funds for drivers education use.

Proponents of the legislation argue that the state simply does not have enough resources to have officers patrol all school zones and work zones effectively. The bill now moves to the House Judiciary A Committee for consideration.

Governor Receives Bill Restricting Rulemaking Authority

Lawmakers gave final approval this week to a bill blocking state agencies from implementing any new rules next year that would lead to significant costs from regulation. Following passage in the House, the Senate voted 48-1 to effectively put a moratorium through 2012 on any rule that results in at least $500,000 in aggregate costs. The bill is on the Governor’s desk for her signature. Governor Perdue has previously indicated her desire to eliminate excessive rulemaking, presenting to lawmakers nearly 1000 rules and regulations to consider eliminating.

House Proceeds on Term Limits for Leadership Posts

This week a House Judiciary committee passed a bill that would limit the House speaker and the Senate president pro tem to no more than two terms. Under the bill, a person could only serve two terms in either position. Also, it would prohibit the top chamber leaders from serving two terms, skipping a term, and later returning to the same position. If approved by the General Assembly, the proposed amendment to the NC Constitution would be placed on the ballot for ratification in November 2012 for the general election.

New Budget Savings Plan Heads to the Governor

A new budget savings bill, replacing the one vetoed by the Governor last week was passed by the General Assembly this week. The new measure directs the Governor to find $538 million in savings by the end of June without indicating specific savings unlike the previous bill that spelled out $75 million in cuts from corporate recruitment funds and the Golden LEAF Foundation. Following passage in the House and Senate the bill now goes to the Governor for her signature of which she is expected to sign.