Pardon Our Dust
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Legislators Head Home, Ending Session with a Flurry of Activity
House Speaker Thom Tillis (R-Mecklenburg) hammered the gavel at 12:33 pm on Saturday (6/18) officially adjourning the 2011 legislative session, making it the shortest budget-writing session since 1973. The General Assembly wrapped up nearly five months of work on a wide array of issues affecting public school classrooms to corporate boardrooms. Some of the highlights include new gun laws, environmental regulatory reform, changes to medical malpractice laws, workers’ compensation reform, and narrowing the powers of the state’s tax collectors on multistate corporations.
The governor is reviewing more than 200 bills that the General Assembly sent to her desk before adjourning. The governor usually has 30 days after adjournment to consider bills but she only has her normal 10-day window because the legislature returns to work July 13th for a special session on redistricting and election laws. The governor has already vetoed seven bills, with the most recent being a measure that would keep school districts from remitting automatic payments to the N.C. Association of Educators. The governor’s office has given indication that she is additionally considering vetoes on the bill requiring photo identification for voting and the measure reforming the state’s medical malpractice laws.
Lawmakers Vote to Override Governor’s Budget Veto
Lawmakers left a mark in the history books before leaving with both the House and Senate voting to override Governor Perdue’s veto of the legislative budget bill. The House voted just after midnight on Wednesday (6/15) with a 73-46 vote, retaining the votes of the five Democrats who supported the original House budget proposal. The Senate followed voting 31-19 later that day making the veto override official. This marks only the second time in the state’s history that a gubernatorial veto has been overridden. The $19.7 billion spending plan takes effect on July 1, the start of the fiscal year.
For every budget the legislature passes, they also pass a technical corrections bill to help “clean-up” certain parts of the budget with last minute changes. This year there were about three dozen technical changes made to the state budget plan including changing targeted cuts to “management flexibility” in the governor’s office, giving her the authority to decide where to cut from her office’s operational budget. Other changes include the Department of Natural Resources receiving the flexibility to eliminate three positions from each of its seven regional offices or to shift those positions to another cost center; the Parks Division gets flexibility to cut 18 vacant positions, instead of filled ones; and Tryon Palace gets an extra $500,000, reducing its state budget cut from $1.5 million to $1 million.
Compromise on Terminal Groins Legislation Sent to the Governor
Before adjourning the House and Senate gave their final approval to a compromised version of legislation that would allow terminal groins in our state after being banned for decades. The negotiated version that came out of conference committee allows up to four new structures with requirements of the communities to show proof that they can pay for maintenance and removal of the structures. The Coastal Resources Commission is given the responsibility of issuing the four permits for the projects. Discussion of terminal groins caused controversy throughout the session this year, with strong voices on both sides of the matter. The bill is now being considered by the governor where she has until Saturday (6/25) to veto or sign.
General Assembly Finalizes Tort Reform Negotiations
The Senate passed House Bill 542: Tort Reform for Citizens and Businesses with a 42-8 vote after significant changes were made to the bill in committee. Following committee debate, the provision creating the presumption that a pharmaceutical product is safe if approved by the Food and Drug Administration was eliminated. The bill however still includes provisions to ensure that juries receive accurate information on the actual medical bills paid in a case; establishes new standards for expert witnesses; and sets reasonable limits on attorneys’ fees in small cases. The House voted 80-32 to concur with the changes made in the Senate, sending the legislation to the governor for her approval.
Governor Signs Charter Schools Bill
Governor Perdue has signed into law the compromised measure lifting the charter school cap in North Carolina. Upon signing Perdue stated, “This bill will allow for more choices in our education system and for the growth of charter schools while still keeping the authority for making decisions where it belongs – with the State Board of Education.” Senate Bill 8 passed unanimously in the Senate and by a 108-5 margin in the House. Charter schools, like public schools, are funded by taxpayers but operate outside of public school rules although they are required to meet performance standards and receive approval by the State Board of Education.