A week that began slowly ended up with a flurry of activity. In other words, when the House and the Senate inched closer to a deal on tax reform, the Senate agreed to begin budget negotiations. The practical effect was that, as a conferee on the education portion of the budget, I was needed in Raleigh on Friday and Saturday — days I’m usually home.
It now looks like the General Assembly will complete its work next week. A tax reform deal has been struck, and budget conferees (including both Senator Apodaca and me) spent some portion of the weekend working on a compromise budget. I expect a budget deal will be announced this week. The budget is really the only piece of legislation that we have to pass, and once the Senate and House leadership have agreed on that, the session will end quickly.
McGrady Sponsored Bills
Two of my bills moved last week. HB568 passed the House on Monday. This is a bill that deannexes the Asheville Airport from the municipal boundaries of the City of Asheville. Generally, the City of Asheville leaders have dragged their feet on implementing the regional airport law passed last session. It seems that only with the potential loss of tax revenues from the airport will the City comply with the law.
House Bill 321, “Amend Local Solid Waste Planning,” is a bill sought by the NC Association of County Commissioners, and the bill simply cuts some planning requirements. The bill was amended in the Senate to give a permit to a controversial landfill in Union County, and I expect the House will not concur with the Senate changes.
Just as my solid waste planning bill got amended to be the “vehicle” for moving other landfill legislation, lots of bills that are viewed as likely to pass suddenly are like Christmas trees — attracting all sorts of ornaments, otherwise known as other bills. Sometimes the bill attached to the “vehicle” doesn’t have anything to do with the subject of the original bill.
Two bills were the best examples of that. First, the abortion provisions that had been attached by the Senate to the Anti-Sharia law bill, HB695 (originally “Foreign Laws/Protect Constitutional Rights” but now Faith, and Freedom Protection Act”), were grafted on Senate Bill 353 (originally the “Motor Cycle Safety Act” but now “Health and Safety Law Changes.”) The abortion bill was modified to meet the objections of Governor McCrory and passed the House by a vote of 74-41.
The abortion issue is very contentious. There are those who oppose any abortions and are for anything that will restrict them, and there are those who feel that the State shouldn’t be restricting abortions. In North Carolina, abortion is a surgical procedure 75% of the time. According to Dr. Marty McCaffrey, a Neonatologist and Professor of Pediatrics at the UNC School of Medicine, it is one of the most commonly performed surgeries in North Carolina. Evidently, there have been serious deficiencies reported in abortion clinics in North Carolina, and I ultimately voted to support the bill based on my understanding that abortion procedures were being held to a lesser standard than other medical interventions.
The House also got tired of the Senate’s refusal to take up my proposed constitutional amendment, House Bill 8 (Eminent Domain), and it passed SB636 (Wildlife Resources Commission Penalty Changes), with the provisions of the eminent domain bill attached. My bill would restrict the power of state and local governments to seize private property, and I was happy that House leadership was willing to try to move the legislation along. Of course, it is unclear if the Senate will now take up these matters.
Two other bills that passed the House got significant attention. SB81 (Charlotte Douglas International Airport) will create a regional authority, quite similar to the authority created for the Asheville Regional Airport, to manage the Charlotte airport. SB112 (Create Jobs Through Regulatory Reform) is the House’s regulatory reform bill. The bill was only considered in committees on Wednesday, but it passed the House on Thursday.
The bill was highly problematical for me since it proposed to further limit the ability of local governments to regulate billboards and would have allowed the automatic repeal of a host of rules, some of which are explicitly required by federal law. For example, under the Federal Clean Air Act or the Federal Clean Water Act, the State regulates air emissions and water discharges into lakes and streams. The bill as originally drafted might have provided for automatic repeal of some of the state’s regulations putting at risk the State’s ability to manage these federally delegated programs. The bill also contained an overly broad local preemption provision that could have seriously handicapped local governments’ ability to address local issues not fully addressed by state law.
While I didn’t serve on the committees that heard the bill, I worked with the bill’s primary sponsor, Rep. Tim Moffitt (R-Buncombe), and he incorporated two of my proposed changes in one floor amendment he offered, and supported an amendment I put forth to continue to allow some local control of billboards. I worked into the wee hours of the morning to get ready for floor debate, but I was unsuccessful in striking provisions in the bill supported by the billboard industry that will likely lead to less local control over billboards. In the end, while the bill is better in my opinion than it was when first introduced, I still voted against the bill that passed the House by a vote of 84 to 28.
If this week turns out to be the next to last week of the session, I expect it will be a busy one. We’ve got several significant bills that are still awaiting action. First up is HB786 (The “RECLAIM NC” Act), a comprehensive immigration enforcement measure that is on the calendar for tonight, but will be postponed until tomorrow. The bill is opposed by liberal groups because of its Arizona-style enforcement and criminal provisions. The bill is also opposed by conservative, anti-immigration groups because of one provision: a mandate that all persons not legally present in our state must obtain a temporary permit to be able to drive.
The bill would require an undocumented worker to be fingerprinted, undergo a background check, and take the same driving test that other drivers take. A permit will clearly state the person has no lawful status and the permit may not be used to register to vote or obtain government services. Once the individual completes this process and obtains insurance, he or she will receive a permit. For those not legally here who drive without the permit, the state may confiscate their vehicle.
Right now, there are hundreds of thousands of illegals who are driving on our state’s roads. Many do not have insurance and haven’t completed a road safety course, and some may be wanted on criminal charges. Under our current law, these folks may continue to present a danger to the public safety, and the supporters of this bill say the bill will change that.
Legislators have received a huge amount of email communications relating to HB937 (Amend Various Firearm Laws). This is a pro-gun bill, but the sticking point has been with a provision that the NC Sheriff’s Association has opposed related to handgun purchases and the need to get a license through local sheriffs. I expect we’ll take action on this bill before leaving town.
A host of environmental bills are also hung up in the legislative process because they are controversial, and it is unclear what will happen with them. HB94 (Amend Environmental Law 2013) is a bill I originally introduced, but it went from having six largely technical provisions when it passed the House to having thirty-five provisions when it passed the Senate. It now has provisions relating to fracking and it even abolishes the Mountain Resources Commission, on which I previously served. Despite my original cosponsorship of this bill, I expect to vote against it unless significant changes are made.
Energy exploration legislation is still bottled up in a conference committee. SB76 (Domestic Energy Jobs Act) would allow permits for hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas to be issued beginning on March 1, 2015. While I’m not on the conference committee, I suspect the provision authorizing issuance of permits without prior legislative approval is among the hang-ups. The bill really is more about offshore drilling than fracking, but most folks haven’t realized that.
Jordan Lake is a lake outside of Raleigh that is one of the city’s primary sources of water. Originally built for recreation-purposes, the lake has been the subject of ever-increasing efforts to limit upstream pollution that leads to algal blooms and poor water quality. SB515, the Jordan Lake Water Quality Act, would suspend implementation of the rules intended to clean up the lake. The bill has changed several times during its journey through the General Assembly, and it pits Raleigh legislators who want the lake cleaned up against legislators representing upstream towns and cities, including Greensboro, who do not want their communities to have to pay for the cleanup.
Last session, as I approached the last week, I had several bills still awaiting passage in the Senate. This time, only my Eminent Domain bill (HB8) and my Autism Bill (HB498) are awaiting Senate action. My expectation is that the Autism Bill will likely be held for consideration during the Short Session in 2014, but there are no expectations with respect to the Eminent Domain bills, either HB8 or SB636.