NCGA Week in Review – February 18 – February 22

February 22, 2013

Pardon Our Dust

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Senate Commerce Committee Approves Fracking Bill
The Senate Commerce Committee approved Senate Bill 76 that would allow hydraulic fracturing for natural gas in North Carolina on Thursday. The committee was the second to give a favorable report on the bill, which will now head to the Senate floor Tuesday. Senate Bill 76 would allow hydraulic fracturing to begin as soon as March 2015. The bill would also create a severance tax structure for the hydraulic fracturing industry. There would initially be a one percent tax on extracted shale gas that would rise to six percent by 2020. Supporters of the legislation believe that it would bring jobs to North Carolina. Those who oppose the legislation believe that hydraulic fracturing could lead to environmental issues such as underground drinking water contamination.
McCrory’s Signs First Bill, Gives First State of the State Address Monday
Governor McCrory signed Senate Bill 14, the Increase Access to Career and Technical Education Act, Monday to add endorsements to high school diplomas making students more qualified for careers or college. The bill, the first bill signed by Governor McCrory, is meant to encourage students to finish high school while pursuing opportunities that do not require a four-year degree. These endorsements would make a high school graduate more attractive to employers.
Later Monday night, Governor McCrory addressed both chambers of the General Assembly in his first State of the State address. The Governor laid out many of the priorities of his legislative agenda, including lowering income taxes, getting more technology into the classroom as part of an education overhaul, and creating a streamlined government that focuses on customer service. McCrory stated that the economy was his top priority, claiming that the state needs to allow drilling, overhaul its incentives program and cut taxes in order to attract and retain businesses. 
House Finance Committee Passes Estate Tax Repeal
The House Finance Committee ruled favorably on a bill that would repeal the estate tax on anyone who died after January 1, 2013. The bill was sent to the House Appropriations Committee, which will decide if the measure would be folded into the budget or as stand-alone legislation. Currently, the estate tax in North Carolina is only levied on estates with a value of more than $5.25 million. The tax ranges from as low as 0.8% on smaller estates to as high as 16% on estates valued over $10,040,000. According to estimates, the elimination of the tax would reduce tax collections by $52 million in the 2013-2014 fiscal year, and around $300 million over five years. Those in favor of repeal argued that the tax was unfair, as many farm owners have been forced to sell their inherited lands to pay the tax. Meanwhile, supporters of the estate tax believe that it affects too few individuals for the state to forego $52 million.
Unemployment Benefits Reform Signed by Governor McCrory
Governor McCrory signed a bill Tuesday that would change the state’s unemployment system to allow businesses to pay back the $2.5 billion they borrowed to pay unemployment benefits during the Great Recession more quickly. The legislation cuts the maximum unemployment benefit from $535 to $350. It also changes the length of unemployment benefits from 26 weeks to a sliding scale between 12 and 20 weeks. These changes mean that the $2.5 billion in debt could be paid back by 2015, according to estimates.
New Legislation Would Mean Harsh Penalty for Passing Stopped School Bus
A Senate judiciary committee approved a bill Thursday that would revoke a person’s driver’s license if convicted of passing a stopped school bus. Under the bill, a first time offender would lose their license for 30 days, and 90 days for a second offense. A person who hits someone in the act of passing a school bus would lose their license for one year, and a person who hits and kills someone would lose their license for two years. The committee approved the bill Thursday with the unfortunate news that a child that was hit by a car at a bus stop in Nash county that morning. The child was injured but expected to make a full recovery. The committee also discussed camera systems that would automatically catch people passing a school bus. The bill will move to the Senate floor next week.
New Education Bills Filed This Week
House Bill 156, titled “Back to Basics,” would make cursive handwriting and multiplication tables return as a part of the required education curriculum. Cursive handwriting has fallen off of the curriculum in many areas because of the need to teach other required standards. The bill, filed Thursday, would ensure that students learn to write legibly in cursive by the end of the fifth grade. House Bill 144, which was filed Thursday, would create an income tax credit for children who are homeschooled. The credit would be worth $1,250 per semester of homeschooling. The taxable semesters would be the first and second halves of the calendar year. Senate Bills 118, 119, 120, and 121, which were filed this week, place emphasis on learning with technology, and having technology in the classroom.
House Rules Committee Squashes Medicinal Marijuana Bill
The House Rules Committee ruled unfavorably on House Bill 84 that would create a medicinal marijuana system in North Carolina. The bill would create a patient and caregiver system similar to other states that have approved medical marijuana. This ruling effectively killed the bill and would block any other similar bills filed this session. The ruling came down after several testimonies from the public, including a veteran now leading a pro-marijuana group, a 51 year old brain cancer survivor who used marijuana to help with the side effects of her chemotherapy, and a representative of the NC Family Policy Council who spoke out against the bill. Many in the standing room only crowd became upset with the NC Family Policy Council representative after he stated that the American Medical Association saw no medical benefit in marijuana. Committee Chair Tim Moore had to use his gavel to calm down the crowd.
House Passes New Methamphetamine Penalty
The House passed HB 29, 116-1, Wednesday that would make it a felony for a person previously convicted for a methamphetamine charge to possess pseudoephedrine. Pseudoephedrine is the only ingredient for methamphetamine that cannot be substituted for something else, making it the most important ingredient in the drug’s production. Pseudoephedrine is found in several over the counter medications such as Sudafed. The bill also passed stiffer penalties for a person convicted of manufacturing methamphetamine in the presence of a child, disabled or elderly person, with even stronger penalties if the child, disabled or elderly person resides where the drugs were produced. Meth lab busts in North Carolina reached an all-time high in 2012, with 460 busts, compared with 344 in 2011, and 235 in 2010. Seventy meth labs have already been busted in 2012.
Possum One Step Closer to Getting Job Back in Brasstown
The Senate voted 41-2 in favor of allowing Brasstown to continue its annual Possum Drop celebration on New Year’s Eve. The people of Brasstown catch a wild possum, place it in a plexi-glass box, and lower it slowly to the ground, much like the ball drop in Times Square. The possum is released into the wild after the event. The non-alcoholic event draws as many as 4,000 people annually. The bill gives the Wildlife Resources Commission the ability to issue permits for trapping a wild animal for exhibition, or educational purposes. The bill came out of a lawsuit filed by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which argued that the Wildlife Resources Commission did not have the authority to grant a permit to display a wild possum. The bill now heads to Governor McCrory’s desk.

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