NCGA Week in Review – March 11 – March 15

March 15, 2013

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House Elections Committee Hears From Public, Organizations About Voter ID

The House Elections Committee heard public opinions on future legislation that would require voters to show photo identification in order to cast their ballot. On Tuesday, the committee held an open forum, where any member of the public could give their opinion about the pending legislation. The hearing lasted over four hours, and featured nearly one hundred speakers. The majority of the speakers disagreed with the measure, claiming that voter fraud was not common in North Carolina and that requiring photo identification would be an obstacle to those without a valid, state-issued photo ID. Those in favor of the measure claimed that voter fraud is more prevalent than statistics show. On Wednesday, the House Elections Committee brought in a panel of well-versed voices who gave opinions on both sides of the issue. The panel included officials from the Brennan Center for Justice, the Heritage Foundation, the Civitas Institute, Democracy North Carolina, as well as other think tanks and organizations. The General Assembly passed a voter identification bill during the 2011 session that was vetoed by Governor Perdue.
New Death Penalty Bill Would Streamline Execution Process
Senator Thom Goolsby filed Senate Bill 306 Wednesday, which would make several changes to the laws governing the administration and appeal of capital punishment. Among the measures in the bill, it would abolish the 2009 Racial Justice Act, which allows those who are sent to death row to have their sentences converted to life in prison if they can show racial prejudice played a role in their conviction. No inmates on North Carolina’s death row have been executed since 2006 due to various state and federal legal appeals. It is not currently clear what effect, if any, the new bill would have on speeding up pending death penalty appeals. The bill also calls for the state’s Public Safety secretary to develop the most humane and constitutionally sound method of conducting lethal injections and to train a team to carry out executions. Those in favor of the bill claim that other laws and procedures protecting the rights of those accused of murder are sufficient.
Senate Approves Bill Creating Charlotte Regional Airport Authority
The Senate approved Senate Bill 81 on Wednesday, which would move control of Charlotte Douglas International Airport away from the City of Charlotte and create a regional airport authority. The bill would create a regional authority which includes people from counties surrounding Charlotte and appointments made by Governor McCrory and legislative leaders. Those in opposition to the bill claimed that the idea needed to be studied more thoroughly before a decision is made. Charlotte Douglas is the country’s eighth busiest airport and is currently a hub for US Airways. The bill now moves on to the House.
Two DWI Laws Make Their Way Through House
House Judiciary Committee B gave favorable reports on two bills changing North Carolina’s drunken driving laws. House Bill 31 would amend the habitual DWI law. Currently, a person has to be convicted of four DWIs in a ten year period in order to be charged with habitual DWI. The new legislation would make it so any person convicted of DWI after being previously convicted of habitual DWI, would be charged with a habitual DWI regardless of the time between convictions. The bill comes from a loophole where a person convicted of habitual DWI could later face misdemeanor charges if the person goes ten years between charges, even if the person spent those ten years in prison. The committee also passed House Bill 183, which would allow local hospitals to test a drunken driving suspect’s blood if the hospital chooses. Under the current system, all blood tests are done by the state, leading to backups over a year and a half long. These delays are largely a result of US Supreme Court decisions in 2009 and 2011 that require analysts who conduct blood alcohol and other tests to testify in court when that evidence is used.
Bill Would Roll Back Renewable Energy Requirements
House Bill 298 would remove an energy program that has paid financial incentives to homeowners for buying efficient appliances, solar panels, and home energy audits. The legislation would end the state’s requirement that power companies use renewable energy and promote energy conservation programs. Those in favor of the legislation argue that energy sources for generating electricity should be chosen on a least-cost basis rather than being selected by government policy, and claim that most renewable energy sources are not competitive without government support. Those who oppose the bill claim that it will hurt North Carolina’s businesses. In 2007, North Carolina became the first Southern state to require electric utilities to use renewable resources as a matter of policy. That legislation led to the creation of new industry focused on renewable energy in North Carolina.
Legislature Moves to Reform Building Inspections
House Bill 120, which intends to make building inspections for homes more uniform and lead to fewer changes to building codes, passed through the House on Tuesday. The bill has already passed its first reading in the Senate, and has been referred to the Senate Commerce Committee. Proponents of the bill claim that the measure is necessary to help the housing industry recover from the Great Recession. They believe the bill is needed to provide certainty to home builders and ensure they are treated equally. Critics of the bill asked why the state was interfering with how local officials perform a statutory duty. The legislation would prohibit local governments from conducting building code inspections for homes beyond those required under the state building code unless those local governments receive permission from the state Building Code Council. The bill has no effect on the commercial building codes.

Please contact the Raleigh McGuireWoods Consulting team if you have any questions or comments:

Harry Kaplan, Senior Vice-President
Jeff Barnhart, Senior Vice-President
Franklin Freeman, Senior Vice-President
John Merritt, Senior Vice-President
Johnny Tillett, Senior Vice-President
Rita Harris, Vice-President
Bo Heath, Vice-President
Kerri Burke, Assistant Vice-President
Sarah Wolfe, Research Assistant
Katy Feinberg, Strategic Communications