NC lawmakers push forward during short session to promote improvements and innovations for the future, while taking a step back to honor those that paved the way in the past.
Heading toward the Memorial Day Holiday, House lawmakers convened session on Thursday in the old State Capitol, where lawmakers first met 220 years ago. After a week of filing numerous bills and debating in committees, lawmakers also passed resolutions honoring our military veterans and graciously welcomed their company in Chambers throughout the week.
In the Old Capitol on Thursday, representatives gathered beneath ornate Corinthian columns and a portrait of George Washington, in a chamber shaped like an amphitheater. The House approved a resolution commemorating the anniversary of the first session in the Capitol on December 30, 1794. The General Assembly met there until the Capitol burned down in 1831, but resumed session in the reconstructed building in 1841 until 1961.
The venue set the perfect stage heading into the holiday weekend and wrapping up a week of remembering our Military heroes. Representative Bill Brawley, a Republican from Mecklenburg County, said the venue was, “a fitting place to remember the early days of the republic, which established a new standard of liberty for the entire world.”
Senate Republican leaders rolled out their lengthy regulatory reform bill on Tuesday, promoting an overhaul of regulations as an important focus in order to lift the red tape that has stifled businesses in the state. Their efforts were successful as the Senate Bill 734 faced no opposition in the Tuesday committee, despite being comprised of sixty-two pages.
Bill sponsor Senator Andrew Brock (R-Davie) agreed he was surprised at the ease with which the bill passed through the committee but stated, “any time you have a 62-page bill, you expect maybe something.” However, he qualified the unanticipated consensus among members noting, “but people read through it, and most of it was just simple, common sense changes.”
Seemingly the Senate Finance committee had a similar opinion as the committee also approved the bill with little debate. The bill’s wide array of changes to state law includes air quality, drinking water, beer sales and child care inspections. The bill had little public notice, but the majority of lawmakers agree that the bill is comprised of very few new or controversial items.
On Thursday, nearly one-third of the Senate’s Democrats joined Republicans in passing the bill on a vote of 37-10. The Senate’s approval of the regulatory overhaul Thursday was partly attributed to the strategic efforts of GOP power in the Chamber, as Senator Tom Apodaca, a key Republican of the 38th District, employed a procedural tactic. Republicans struck down five attempts from Democrats to rewrite provisions in the bill while Sen. Apodaca substituted his amendments for those offered by Democrats, to kill three of the amendments before they could be voted on.
This week the Senate voted to lift the state’s fracking moratorium and agreed to remove several controversial provisions of Senate Bill 786 before sending it to the House. As the bill, also known as the Energy and Modernization Act, is expected to undergo further revisions and face a much closer vote in the House, the Senate agreed to make the bill more palatable to skeptics.
Senator Buck Newton, a Republican from Wilson County, emphasized the importance of pushing this legislation forward, after many years of pushback causing NC to fall behind the curve and miss out on a huge economic opportunity. The Senate agreed to some tweaks in the bill, including slightly lowering a proposed penalty for chemical disclosure of fracking chemicals and requiring a minimum bond of one- million dollars by fracking operators to protect the state and residents against accidents and other potential damage.
SB 786 will allow the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to start issuing drilling permits on July 1, 2015. The permits cannot be issued until the legislature adopts safety rules for fracking, which have been on a parallel track in the N.C. Mining and Energy Commission (MEC). As some democratic members and environmentalists continued the trend of past years, expressing their concerns with the legislation, chairman of the MEC Jim Womack, predicted the bill will pass this time around. The House could take up the bill as early as next week.
An ALEC-promoted bill resurfaced this week after first emerging in 2011. Senate Bill 648—NC Commerce Protection Act of 2013, protects all products that have been approved by government regulators from liability if something goes wrong with them. Certain provisions in the bill received skepticism, including one meant to prevent people who sue over asbestos injury from double-dipping by collecting payments in different courts.
Another part of the bill surrounding bad-faith patent litigation has emerged in an entirely separate bill dedicated to the issue of Patent Trolls. House Bill 1032—Patent Abuse Bill, is intended to crack down on patent abuse in North Carolina. The House Commerce committee approved the bill this week, which will establish civil penalties for unfair assertions of patent infringement. In an attempt to help companies that are wrongly sued, the bill extends claims of deceptive trade practice to cover unfair allegations of patent infringement.
Commerce Chairman Tom Murry (R-Wake) said the bill helps to protect state businesses and innovation as it “rewards innovation by letting innovators know you’ve got protection in our courts.” Rep. Murry explained that the bill expands current rules and applies primarily to technology patents. He added that North Carolina would be one of the top ten states in the country to pass a patent abuse bill, commonly known as the “patent troll” bill. The bill heads to the House Judiciary committee before it can face a vote by the full House.
SENATE BUDGET SCHEDULE
Following the release of Governor Pat McCrory’s $21 billion recommended spending plan last week, the Senate announced its plan to release and vote on its budget next week. Rules Chairman Senator Apodaca assured that if it is not sent to the House by the end of next week, it certainly would be the following week.