Pardon Our Dust
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Last Friday, Gov. Coopersigned his first bill into law, and the General Assembly passedtwo more billsthis week, which now await his approval. Additionally, many bills wereheard in committee this week related to reshaping the state’s judiciary,regulating fantasy sports, and drone use around prisons and jails.
Confirmation Proceedings Continue
Arguments began this week before the three judge panel that will decide theconstitutionality of the Senate confirmation process. However, this did notdeter the Senate from continuing to hold hearings, and issue subpoenas forGov. Cooper’s cabinet appointments. Senate committees issued subpoenas onWednesday for Jim Trogdon, Secretary of Transportation, and Erik Hooks,Secretary of Public Safety. A subpoena was also issued on Thursday for SusiHamilton, Secretary of Natural and Cultural Resources. Larry Hall,Secretary of Military and Veteran Affairs, was confirmed this week. He wasCooper’s first appointee confirmed by the Senate.
Court Elections, Reductions and Vacancies
Several bills moved through the General Assembly this week that wouldimpact the state’s court system.
HB 100: Restore Partisan Elections/ Sup. & Dist. Courthas been passed by the House and Senate, and was sent to Gov. Cooper forhis approval on Thursday. The bill, sponsored by Reps. Justin Burr(R-Stanly), Jason Saine (R-Lincoln), Dana Bumgardner (R-Gaston), and CodyHenson (R-Transylvania), would return superior and district court races topartisan elections. Superior and district court elections have beennon-partisan since 1996 and 2001, respectively.
Reps. Justin Burr (R-Stanly), David Lewis (R-Harnett), and Sarah Stevens(R-Surry), have sponsored legislation that would gradually reduce the sizeof the North Carolina Court of Appeals from 15 to 12 judges. Opponents ofthe legislation say that reducing the size of the court would strain thecourt. Proponents say the court grew in size because of politicalappointees.HB 239: Reduce Court of Appeals Judgespassed the House on Thursday by a vote of 71-42.
HB 240: GA Appoint for District Court Vacanciespassed the House by a vote of 66-47 on Thursday. The bill, sponsored byReps. Justin Burr (R-Stanly), Kyle Hall (R-Stokes), and Dana Bumgardner(R-Gaston), would require the General Assembly to appoint judges todistrict court vacancies. If the General Assembly is not in session when aseat becomes vacant, then the Speaker of the House and President Pro-Tem ofthe Senate may leave the seat vacant until the legislature reconvenes.Under current law, the Governor appoints judges to fill vacancies ondistrict courts.
Drones Over Jails
Reps. Allen McNeill (R-Randolph), John Torbett (R-Gaston), and JohnFaircloth (R-Guilford) sponsored legislation that would prohibit drone usewithin 500 horizontal or 250 vertical feet of a state, federal or localdetention center.HB 128: Prohibit Drone Use Over Prison/Jailis in response to incidents across the country where contraband has beenflown into jails and prisons by a drone. An individual would be chargedwith a class H felony for transporting a weapon into a detention facility,and a class I felony for transporting illicit materials. Other individualswould be charged with a class 1 misdemeanor.
Legislation sponsored by Reps. John Torbett (R-Gaston), John Blust(R-Guilford), and Justin Burr (R-Stanly) would create criminal offenses forwhat proponents call “economic terrorism.”HB 249: Economic Terrorismstates that an individual is guilty of the crime if he or she obstructstraffic, damages property, or disrupts business that results in damages orlosses of more than $1,000 for a business or individual. If found guilty,an individual would be convicted of a class H felony. Opponents of thelegislation say this legislation is a violation of first amendment rights.Proponents say the bill protects citizens and business owners from riotsand violent protestors.
Fantasy Sports Regulation
A bipartisan group of House members filed a bill this week to regulatefantasy sports gaming in North Carolina. Sponsored by Reps. Jason Saine(R-Lincoln), Jon Hardister (R-Guilford), Ed Hanes (D-Forsyth), and DuaneHall (D-Wake),HB 279: Fantasy Sports Regulationwould require the operator of a fantasy sports company to register with theSecretary of State, and pay initial registration and renewal fees. Theinitial registration fee would be 10% of the operator’s gross revenue fromthe previous year, but cannot exceed $10,000. The renewal fee would be 10%or $5,000 of the previous year’s net revenue. Renewal would be requiredevery five years.
Lottery Funds for Rural Schools and Principal Pay
Sens. Harry Brown (R-Onslow), Ralph Hise (R-Mitchell), and Jerry Tillman(R-Randolph) sponsored legislation that would use lottery funds for ruralschool construction, provide bonuses for principals, and increasecompensation for assistant principals.SB 234: SBA Pay/Needs-Base Pub. Sch. Capital Fundwould provide $75 million for school construction and over $24 million forprincipal and assistant principal pay. The bill allocates a one-time bonusof $2,600 for every principal in the state, and establishes a competitivebonus program for each school district, which would be administered by thedistrict’s superintendent. Assistant principals would also see asignificant salary increase.
Raise the Age for Juvenile Offenders
Reps. David Lewis (R-Harnett), Susan Martin (R-Wilson), Chuck McGrady(R-Henderson), and Duane Hall (D-Wake), sponsored legislation this weekthat would allow 16 and 17 year-olds to be tried as juveniles. Currently,North Carolina is one of two states that allows offenders of that age to betried as adults.HB 280: Juvenile Justice Reinvestment Actwould continue to allow offenders under 18 to be charged as an adult forcertain violent felonies and drug crimes. The bill also includes provisionsto create more juvenile justice diversion programs, increase juvenilejustice training for law enforcement, and to authorize a new juvenilejurisdiction advisory committee.
Renewable Energy Requirements
Reps. Jimmy Dixon (R-Duplin) and John Bell (R-Wayne) filedHB 267: Utilities/Amend REPS Requirementsthis week. The bill would reduce the percentage of renewable energyrequired in energy portfolios of utility providers. Under current law,utility providers are required to have 6% of their sales from renewableenergy sources. The rate is scheduled to increase to 10% in 2018 and 12.5%in 2021. This legislation would permanently cap the rate at 8%. The billalso allows utility providers to meet up to 40% of their renewable energyrequirements through savings from energy efficiency practices.
Protection for Ex-Government Officials
Sens. Dan Bishop (R-Mecklenburg) and Brent Jackson (R-Sampson) sponsoredlegislation that would provide security for a former governor for one yearafter the end of his or her term.SB 229: Protection for Former Government Officialwould provide one member of the state highway patrol on the occasionalbasis at the request of the former governor. The expense would be paid bythe office of the sitting governor.
Scholarships for STEM and Special Ed Teachers
Sen. Chad Barefoot (R-Wake) and Rep. Craig Horn (R-Union) announced aproposal to recruit new teachers for special education and STEM (science,technology, engineering and math) subjects. The proposal, which would beknown as the North Carolina Teaching Fellows Program, would provide $8,250in forgivable loans to participants. Current teachers, as well as highschool and college students, would be eligible for the program. Legislativeleaders were joined by Margaret Spellings, President of the UNC System, Dr.Randy Woodson, Chancellor of NC State University, Mark Johnson, StateSuperintendent of Public Instruction, and Dr. Hope Williams, Director ofthe North Carolina Colleges and Independent Universities, for theannouncement. Sen. Barefoot is expected to introduce the legislation nextweek.
Teacher Bonus Expansion
Sens. Phil Berger (R-Rockingham), Kathy Harrington (R-Gaston) and TrudyWade (R-Guilford) sponsoredSB 169: Teaching Excellence Bonus Expansion. Under legislation passed last session, 3rd grade teachers whomet achievement requirements would receive a $3,500 bonus. However, manyteachers, who met the requirements, were moved to other positions withintheir schools, which resulted in a loss of the bonus. This legislation isan effort to correct the missed bonuses.