With the Senate working on its budget, the House moved to take action on a range of controversial social issues. In the span of two weeks, the House is expected to consider legislation involving guns, abortion, alcohol, gay marriage, and animal welfare. An immigration-related bill could also be heard.
While the issues themselves are difficult, they are made even more difficult because of highly principled activists — sometimes better described as zealots — on both sides of the each issue who passionately believe in whatever position they take. Rarely is there any willingness to find a compromise, and activists often view whatever position a legislator takes on their one issue as the beginning and end of how they view that legislator’s work.
For weeks now, the House has been working on its gun bill, House Bill 562 [Amend Firearm Laws]. Before bringing the bill to the floor, leadership wants to know that it has the votes to pass the bill. There is no need to waste a lot of time on a bill that can’t pass. The bill contains a little bit of everything, and the summary of the sixteen page bill gives one a complete overview of all of the provisions which run from allowing district attorneys to carry a concealed weapon in a courtroom to allowing the Commissioner of Agriculture to prohibit guns at state fairs to allowing legislators and legislative staff to carry a concealed weapons in State legislative buildings.
Two provisions have been the focus of most discussion. The NC Sheriffs’ Association opposed a provision that would repeal the pistol purchase permits now issued by sheriffs and replace it with a system relying on the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). Most sheriffs, including Henderson County Sheriff Charlie McDonald, say they don’t particularly like the added responsibility of performing the background checks, but that they are in a much better position to verify information. Evidently, everyone recognizes there are problems with NICS.
The other provision that has gotten a lot of attention deals with whether a healthcare provider, such as a doctor, can ask a patient about gun ownership. The pro-gun folks say such questions should not be asked, and the physicians say the provision infringes on the doctor-patient relationship. It looks like some compromise may be struck on that issue that will allow questions to be asked on health forms but patients will also be advised that it is not required that they respond to those questions.
The bill was reported out of the committee last week and is expected to be on the House floor tonight. My expectation is that I will ultimately vote for House Bill 562, but I’m not sure how I’ll vote on any of the amendments that try to address issues with the bill.
Like the gun bill, the abortion bill, HB465 [Women and Children’s Protection Act of 2015], has been in the works for several weeks. Governor McCrory clearly signaled that he would veto the bill in its original form, but has now announced that he will sign the bill. The primary provision in the bill is one that increases to 72 hours the waiting period for women who voluntarily consent to an abortion. The bill was loaded up with a bunch of provisions that have broad support, like defining statutory rape as engaging in a sexual act with someone who is 15 years of age or younger and permitting a court to impose conditions of pretrial release in domestic violence cases to protect persons the defendant is dating or has dated.
Democrats tried to have the bill split so that they could vote against the abortion provisions while voting for the domestic violence provisions, but their attempt was thwarted on the House floor. Ultimately, the bill approved by the Senate was agreed to by the House on a vote of 71-43, largely along party lines. I voted for the bill.
Rather than passing individual bills on a number of alcoholic beverage-related issues, the Senate took four House bills and combined them with some new provisions and sent them over to the House in House Bill 909 [ABC Omnibus Legislation]. Included in this legislation was a bill that I had earlier introduced, HB532 [Malt Beverage Tech Changes/Sell Cider in Growlers], that had previously passed the House along with some provisions from my craft brewing legislation, HB625 [Brewery Law Revisions], that didn’t receive a vote in the House.
Some House Members took exception to the procedure used by the Senate, since there were new provisions added to the omnibus bill related to sale of liquor and beer. Other Members viewed some provisions as undercutting the requirement of local control over the distribution and the sale of alcoholic beverages. I was a vocal supporter of the omnibus bill, and it passed with a bipartisan vote of 79-32.
Governor McCrory vetoed Senate Bill 2 [Magistrates Recusal for Civil Ceremonies]. While I could make good arguments on both side of the issue, I voted for the bill when it passed the House by a vote of 67-43. The bill is now back before the House after the Senate voted 32 to 16 to override the Governor’s veto. To override a veto, each chamber must have 3/5 of the Members present vote to override. In the House, the vote will be close, and leadership is simply waiting until it has the votes to override. Typically, there are a few members who miss a session, and apparently with the members who were missing last week, there were not enough votes to override the veto.
The Humane Society and other animal welfare groups pejoratively called House Bill 405 [Property Protection Act] the “Ag Gag bill.” As I explained in an earlier post, I think that the Humane Society and others were wrong in how they characterized the bill. The Governor vetoed the bill on fairly narrow grounds, claiming that the bill undercut certain whistleblower provisions in current law. Current law generally immunizes employees who disclose violations of the law to law enforcement.
While I felt that the Governor’s concerns could have been easily addressed had he raised them while the bill went through a long legislative process, like many colleagues, I was irritated that the Governor didn’t raise his concerns until he vetoed the bill. I voted to override the veto, but communicated my willingness to address the Governor’s concerns in separate legislation. Both the House and the Senate mustered well over the 3/5’s votes needed to override the veto, and the Property Protection Act becomes law notwithstanding the Governor’s veto.
Two things baffled me about the debate over House Bill 405. First, I didn’t understand the Governor’s decision to veto the bill and, second, I thought the tactics of the bill’s opponents were actually counterproductive.
With respect to the Governor, it is strange that he’d veto a bill that passed with overwhelming bipartisan support and that he raised his fairly narrow objections to the bill only after the bill arrived on his desk. While political pundits have suggested he needs to distance himself from the legislature in advance of the 2016 elections, one has to wonder whether having the legislature so quickly override his veto has any political value. Moreover, had his concerns been raised in a timely fashion, my guess is that most legislators would have addressed his concerns.
With respect to the tactics of the bill’s opponents, framing the bill as the “Ag Gag” bill seemed to unite legislators from rural areas in support of the bill and other legislators, including me, viewed the framing of the bill in that way as inaccurate. More bizarre was the scorched-earth strategy that the Humane Society of the United States and its North Carolina affiliate used against the bill. The organization ran a nasty ad against Speaker Tim Moore in his hometown paper.
While completely understanding that people could have different views on the bill, the Humane Society’s rhetoric was both highly partisan and way over-the-top. For instance, after the vote, the Humane Society of the United States claimed that “North Carolina Republicans kowtowed to the state’s factory farms” and the “law turns whistleblowers into criminals, while protecting corporations and people who do terrible things to animal and even vulnerable people.”
Well, the problem with that sort of rhetoric is that it probably ensures that other legislation sought by the Humane Society is dead. I’m a primary cosponsor of the puppy mill bill, HB159 [Dog Breeding Stds/Law Enforcement Tools], and the lead sponsor of the exotic animals bill, HB554 [Protect Public from Dangerous Wild Animals], but I think the Humane Society’s rhetoric is offensive. Moreover, I’m sure it will be very difficult to garner support for future bills put forward by the organization.
While the Humane Society says it is an “animal protection” group — not an “animal rights” group, like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals or PETA — the strident tone of its campaign against the bill made me wonder. My guess is that both the puppy mill and the exotic animal bills will now die, because my colleagues are so unhappy with the tactics of the Humane Society and other groups against the bill.
House Bill 328 [Highway Safety/Citizen Protection Act], would according to the bill summary, “increase penalties for certain offenses involving the manufacture or sale of a false or fraudulent form of identification, disallow the use of certain documents in determining a person’s actual identity or residency, provide for the issuance of a restricted drivers permit or a restricted identification card to a person not lawfully present in the United States, and provide a procedure for the seizure, impoundment and forfeiture of a motor vehicle for driving while license revoked, driving without a license or without a restricted drivers permit, and driving while failing to maintain financial responsibility.” The controversial part of the bill is providing driving permits (not licenses) to illegal aliens.
Opponents of the bill simply oppose allowing illegal aliens to get permits. They believe that we should be deporting all of them—not providing them with permits. Supporters say that the illegal aliens are going to drive whether they have a permit or not, and that it is better to issue permits and require them to pass a driver’s test and have insurance.
While I’ve taken no position on the bill since it is still being considered in committee and could change before it comes to the floor, I’ve talked to Sheriff McDonald about it at some length. He initially opposed the bill, since he thought that giving illegal aliens the right to drive was a mistake, but he’s changed his view since he now believes illegal aliens are going to drive with or without a permit, and he’d rather have them trained to drive and carrying insurance rather than having no driver training or insurance. In other words, he sees the public safety concern outweighing the concern about giving illegal aliens any privileges by being in the country unlawfully.
My guess is this bill has sufficient support to pass the House, but wouldn’t move until it is clear that the Senate will take it up. There is no reason to force Members to vote on a controversial matter if there is no chance that the other chamber will take up the bill.