Many of my constituents know that the closest thing I have to an office in Henderson County is the Underground Bakery Co. on Seventh Avenue in Hendersonville — and the most likely time to catch me there (when the legislature is in session) is on Friday or Saturday mornings.
Typically, the folks I run into will apologize for “talking business” — not realizing that I’m perfectly fine with talking about issues and what’s going on in the legislature. A few friends who know me really well, however, and know that I enjoy talking about public policy and politics.
This past weekend, a long-time friend caught me and asked, “So what are you really up to, Chuck? Your newsletter hasn’t talked a lot about what you’re about.”
He was right… so what follows are some of things I’m about. Broadly, they can be grouped into three areas.
Legislation from Previous Sessions
At the end of the last session, a few bills that I introduced failed to make it through the legislative gauntlet. The highest profile bill was House Bill 498 [Mandate Autism Health Insurance Coverage], which would have required health insurance plans (i.e. insurance companies) to provide coverage for the treatment of autism spectrum disorders. The bill overwhelmingly passed the House (105 to 7) but never received a hearing in the Senate. Working with Senator Tom Apodaca, I’m hoping we can craft a consensus bill to provide for such coverage. My role has been to shuttle back and forth between autism groups, various providers of treatment for autistic persons, and insurance companies, primarily Blue Cross Blue Shield, trying to find consensus on some difficult potential provisions in a new bill.
Last session, I introduced a bill, HB440 [NC Carolina Benefit Corporation Act], to create a new form of corporation — a “benefit corporation.” Benefit corporations are for-profit companies that are formed to do charitable work. It is sort of a hybrid between the traditional for-profit and non-profit corporations. That bill was narrowly defeated on the House floor last session, but since then more states have adopted B-corps statutes, and I expect that I’ll introduce a bill similar to last session’s bill.
Sometimes the role a legislator may play with respect to a bill may change. Last session, I introduced a bill to provide for third-party sales of energy by the military, HB679 [Utilities/The Military Good Neighbor Act]. Basically, the bill would have exempted energy sales by the military from regulation. Currently, public utilities hold a monopoly over the sale of energy, and this bill would have created an exception. This year, the bill providing for third-party sales of energy is much broader, and I’m a primary cosponsor but not the lead sponsor. As introduced by Representative John Szoka (R-Cumberland, HB245 [Utilities/The Energy Freedom Act] broadly legalizes third-party sales of energy, and I’m one of the three primary cosponsors.
Last session, I was a primary cosponsor of the “puppy mill” bill that passed the House 100-15, but was not considered by the Senate, and I’m again a primary co-sponsor of a similar bill, HB159 [Regulate Commercial Dog Breeders]. Last session, I introduced a bill to protect children from exposure to toxic chemicals, HB848 [Toxic Free Kids Act]; I anticipate introducing a similar bill, perhaps more narrowly focused on children’s bedding. I floated the idea of trying to address eating disorders in HB758 [Student Screen and Ed./Eating Disorders] last session, and I’m working on legislation that is similar to legislation enacted in Virginia addressing the same issue.
Of course, one sometimes backs away from introducing legislation from previous sessions. The publishers and editors of the Times-News and The Hendersonville Lightning will be happy to learn that I’m not currently working on legislation allowing for electronic notice by local governments, although I might engage on that issue if Senate Bill 210 [Notice Publication by Counties and Cities] makes it over to the House.
I also am not returning to the subject of regional water, HB488 [Regionalization of Utilities], or provision of legal services by nonprofits, HB582 [Legal Services]. Both of those issues are being litigated, but the City of Asheville officials understand I’ll move to address any legal issues related to regional water if and when we get an appellate court decision on the law the General Assembly passed last session.
Legislation Related to Previously Passed Laws
Having introduced three of the four alcoholic beverages bills that passed in the past two sessions, I’m the obvious choice of anyone who wants to pass legislation involving beer, wine, hard cider or liquor. With craft brewers playing an increasingly important role in our economy in Western NC, I’m working on legislation which would make it easier for craft brewers to distribute their beers. Last session, I introduced the bill to allow the sale of “growlers,” HB829 [Sale of Growlers by Certain ABC Permittees]. Growlers are basically big jugs of beer filled and sealed upon sale. Interestingly, a new hard cider producer in Western North Carolina is interested in the potential sale of growlers for hard cider, and I’m researching the issue of whether we might possibly legalize hard cider growlers.
As a former summer camp operator, I remain interested in the issue of how building codes relate to summer camps. The writers of these codes keep requiring the construction of new summer camp cabins that are more like rooms at Holiday Inns than rustic cabins. Last session, I worked successfully on a bill that allowed a very rustic summer camp to use cabins constructed as people might have constructed them in the 1800’s, HB774 [Building Code Exclusion/Primitive Structures]. My view is that when one is required to put sprinklers and exit lights in a summer camp cabin that it is changing the basic nature of the summer camp. I anticipate another bill that will create a new building code provision that will allow the construction of more traditional cabins.
Having experienced how epinephrine can save lives when a child or adult suddenly has an intense allergic reaction to a food or a bee sting, I supported legislation, HB824 [EPI Pen in Schools], that would make epinephrine auto-injectors available in schools. But the potential to save lives extends to camps, other child-serving entities, and restaurants, and it is very difficult to get epinephrine easily prescribed. I anticipate the introduction of legislation to address this issue.
One of the first bills I passed three years ago was a bill that sought to create uniformity in the way that county tax assessors treated property owned by a nonprofit held and used for educational and scientific purposes. The bill, HB350 [Property Tax Uniformity for Conservation Land], was primarily intended to make sure that land protected by land trusts received the same tax treatment. This session, I’m considering legislation on the same subject but more narrowly on “present use value” as it relates to lands transferred to a land trust that are still going to be kept forested or used as a farm.
Legislation on New Topics
Shortly after one receives one’s committee assignments, lobbyists begin trying to figure out who might be the legislator to introduce a bill on the subject on which they are working. Having worked broadly on environmental issues, a bill relating to how to implement the federal government’s carbon dioxide regulations is a good fit for me. In the past, I introduced legislation relating to cock-fighting, and as a county commissioner, I worked on a Henderson County exotic animal ordinance. Again, lobbyists want me to introduce legislation dealing with exotic animals, but the Farm Bureau is also concerned about ordinances like the one adopted by Buncombe County that regulate livestock. I may introduce legislation on those topics.
Having learned an arcane issue relating to the Community College program audits during the budget process last year, I was quickly identified as a good person to sponsor legislation to rescind the scheduled repeal of the audit of commercial audit of community college programs, HB87 [Community Colleges Program Audit].
Reacting to media coverage of the impending requirement that counties move to “paper ballots,” I considered introducing legislation on that subject and might still cosponsor such legislation. However, it seems that Henderson County’s voting machines will need to be replaced soon; they’ve been used for over ten years and computers (which is what they are) typically begin malfunctioning as they get older. As county commissioners will learn when they see the new voting machines, these are not your Mom and Pop’s “paper ballots.” These machines create a paper ballot that a voter then puts into a machine that counts the ballots.
One subject on which I’ve done a lot of work, but on which I do not expect to introduce legislation, is the issue of the school calendar. The House and the Senate are at loggerheads on this issue. In the House there are over two dozen bills already filed providing local school boards with the ability to set the school calendar, but the Senate leadership has made it clear that no school calendar bills will be considered. Lobbyists on both sides of the issue would like me to broker a process that might lead to a compromise on that issue, but I’m not going to undertake that task this year unless House and Senate leadership sign off on the approach to reaching a compromise on the issue.
There are a few other topics that could be the subject of legislation, but sometimes it isn’t wise to telegraph one’s bills. The House’s bill drafting deadline for local bills is April 1, and the bill drafting deadline for public bills is April 8. By the latter date, almost all of the House bills will have been filed.
A Note on This Week’s Earlier Post
Within seconds of sending my last General Assembly Bulletin regarding computer-generated emails, many House members began receiving emails in support of HB107 [Liquor Sales – Permittee Distilleries]. The emails came from across the state and, amazingly, the script of the email included a pitch that allowing more sales of liquor were the “morally right thing to do.” The argument is that, because most liquor sold in North Carolina is produced out-of-state, North Carolina ought to be producing its own liquor — which would create jobs. Often one can’t really tell who is generating the emails, but with each email including a reference to TOPO Distillery, a Chapel Hill-based distillery, and the suspicion is that they are who were generating the emails. My understanding is the lobbyist for the distilleries has been told to turn off the emails, and I suspect the hundreds of emails received by each legislator haven’t put legislators in a good mood about the bill.
My curiosity continues as to emails being generated by my constituents asking me to support the third-party energy sales bill, HB245. Obviously, my constituents could be left with the erroneous impression that I am not supportive or that I am undecided on the bill. That isn’t true, since I’m already a cosponsor of the bill. The interests of those supporting the bill would be better served if constituents would simply thank the cosponsors for their work on the legislation.