The 2011 session of the General Assembly adjourned around midday on Saturday, June 18. Legislative leaders and the media are trumpeting the efficiency of the session and the fact that this is the earliest adjournment since 1973. (One highly gifted, but clearly exhausted, member of the media reported that it was the earliest adjournment of a long session in nearly 30 years.)
But that is misleading since they aren’t really finished with their work. The adjournment resolution calls them back into a special session on July 13. At that time, they will take up the thorny issue of redistricting as well as controversial bills from the just-ended session which remain in conference committees and any bills vetoed by the Governor. There are already plans for another special session later in the summer to consider a plethora of proposed constitutional amendments, including some really bad ones. So, while there may be advantages to taking a temporary break while work goes on on these controversial issues, it’s really a matter of apples and oranges to compare the adjournments of previous sessions, when their work really was completed, with this pseudo-adjournment.
While we’re on the subject, under the terms of the adjournment resolution, the July session can consider the following matters:
- Redistricting for the state Senate, state House, and Congressional districts.
- Adoption of conference committee reports on bills for which conference committees had been named at the time of adjournment.
- Veto overrides on any bills vetoed by the Governor.
- Bills relating to election laws
- Certain appointments
The Closing Week
Closing weeks of a session – like the run up to crossover day – are often hectic, as legislators push for passage of favored bills before time runs out. This year seemed even more so than most. A summary of activities for Wednesday showed that there had been some action on 242 statewide bills (136 House bills and 106 Senate) and 45 local bills. Thursday’s first calendars had almost 120 bills, and there were four supplemental calendars issued throughout the day. The media quoted a seven-term Republican imploring the House leadership late on Thursday, “Folks, we’re tired, we’re not in a position to think clearly and pass good legislation.” The News & Observer ran an article about the number of mistaken votes that get cast (i.e., votes where the legislator simply pushes the wrong button, mistakes they get to correct later). And there was a 34-page bill of “technical corrections” to the budget bill which appeared before the ink was dry on the General Assembly’s override of the Governor’s veto of that budget bill.
Here’s a summary of action during these last hectic days. Many of these bills are more complex than these summaries would indicate. For bills that are of special interest to you, check out the full text by going to the General Assembly website: www.ncleg.net.
H 22, 2011 Budget Technical Corrections. While some of its provisions really are mere technical changes, including corrections to mistakes made by tired legislators and staff, many are more substantive, some involving “real money”. Among the substantive provisions:
- Moves around a lot of money, mostly in relatively small amounts.
- Changes composition of some boards.
- Repeals the end of state funding for Tryon Palace, funding which had just been eliminated in the budget.
- Prohibits the closing of a prison in Bladen County, which is represented by one of the Democrats who voted to override the budget.
- Reinstates some specific positions in state government which had been eliminated in the budget, including Gov. Perdue’s spokesperson and deputy communications director.
- Lets Lt. Gov. Dalton keep his cell phone.
- Expresses the legislature’s “intent” to create a health benefits exchange (to implement federal health care reform) that meets federal requirements.
Sent to the Governor.
H 36, Employers and Local Government Must Use E-Verify. After several changes regarding which employers are required to verify employment status through E-Verify, the bill that was passed by the General Assembly applies to all employers with 25 or more employees and to local governments. Individuals suspecting that an employer has failed to verify the immigration status of a new employee can file a complaint, even anonymously, requiring the Commissioner of Labor to investigate. Sent to the Governor.
H 87, Community College Opt Out of Federal Loan Program. This bill would have allowed any community college to opt out of a federal loan program that makes it possible for some students to continue their educations. It was passed by the General Assembly but vetoed by the Governor. Wily legislators then used four separate bills, each covering specific named community colleges. Since each bill affected fewer than 15 counties, each was treated as a local bill, and the Governor doesn’t get to sign or veto local bills. So, all four bills have become law, and 26 of the state’s community colleges now have the option of closing the door on this form of financial aid for their students.
H 342, High School Accreditation. Amended to tell the Department of Public Instruction to use available funds to create a position to coordinate accreditation. Sent to the Governor.
H 344, Tax Credits for Children with Disabilities. Amended to delete the provision which would have made the tax credit refundable. The impact of this change is to make the tax credits much less useful to people of low income since they would not owe enough tax for the credit to be of benefit to them. Sent to the Governor.
H 351, Restore Confidence in Government. This is the optimistically named bill that will make it more difficult for some people to vote by requiring a photo ID. Sent to the Governor.
H 512, Rendering Act Amendments. H 512 would bring under state regulation those who collect used cooking oil for use as biofuel. The bill would require insurance liability coverage of $1 million, which could severely impact small biofuel producers. The House has appointed conferees.
H 542, Tort Reform for Citizens and Businesses. Most of the substantive provisions of this tort reform bill were removed before the House and Senate could agree on a version to be sent to the Governor.
H 619, Forced Combinations. This Orwellianly named bill would actually enable large multi-state corporations to shift money to related entities in order to avoid NC taxes. The following summary is from the NC Justice Center:
The House voted on Friday to concur with complicated changes to House Bill 619 that were rushed through the Senate, representing a problematic “pass first, ask questions later” approach to major tax changes. The passage of the law could have devastating consequences for key public investments while also putting locally owned North Carolina businesses at a disadvantage compared to big, multi-state corporate competitors.
Under current laws, North Carolina’s Secretary of Revenue has the authority to require in-state and out-of-state subsidiaries to file a joint tax return if there is evidence of multi-state corporations shifting income to avoid paying state taxes. The new bill would give the Secretary of Revenue the authority to require corporate subsidiaries to file a joint return only if transactions between subsidiaries have no “reasonable business purposes” other than reducing the corporation’s tax liability. In turn, corporate accountants could restructure tax shelters and give them the appearance of “business purposes,” even if the primary purpose was to, in fact, reduce corporate taxes. This provision also would likely cost the state $30 million a year. Sent to the Governor.
H 659, Capital Procedure/Severe Mental Disability, has been re-referred to the Senate Appropriations Comm.
H 641, Certificate of Relief Act. This bill would give a way for someone convicted of a small number of nonviolent crimes to be relieved of the “collateral consequences” of imprisonment. Sent to the Governor.
H 650, Amend Various Gun Laws/Castle Doctrine. H 650 has had the Castle Doctrine added to it. This extends the right to use deadly force against an intruder from the home to motor vehicles and workplaces. Sent to the Governor.
H 709, Protect and Put NC Back to Work. As amended, the bill retains the cap on payments for most disabled workers at 500 weeks, but it adds language allowing benefits to extend beyond that time for someone who can show a “total loss of wage-earning capacity.” Sent to the Governor.
H 744, Safe Students Act. H 744 was amended to remove the requirement that principals ask parents about the immigration status of their children when enrolling them in school. Sent to the Governor.
H 773, Studies Act of 2011. Conference Committee appointed on the House side, not Senate.
S 8, No Cap on Number of Charter Schools. Signed into law.
S 9, No Discriminatory Purpose to Death Penalty (actually the gutting of the Racial Justice Act), passed in the House but was pulled from consideration in the Senate and returned to the Senate Judiciary I Committee. It will be eligible for consideration in the 2012 short session but would seem to be ineligible for this year’s special sessions.
S 47, Restore Confidence in Elections, a catch-all bill which would make significant changes in how elections are conducted and how citizens vote, was returned to committee. It will be eligible for consideration in the July special session. It was amended to delete the provision which would have prohibited one-stop voting on Sundays.
S 166, No Adult Left Behind. Sent to the Governor.
S 194, Alternative Fuel Vehicle Incentives. The bill, which originally applied to plug-in electric vehicles, now applies to vehicles that run on natural gas or which use fuel cells to produce electricity, but not to plug-in electric vehicles. Sent to the Governor.
S 308, State Regulation of Greenhouse Gas Emissions. This misnamed bill should be labeled “No State Regulation of Greenhouse Gas Emissions.” It prohibits the state 1) from having rules to reduce greenhouse gas emissions unless so required by the federal government and 2) from having more stringent standards than the federal law or regulation. A House committee has amended it so that it would eliminate the state’s air toxics program. The full House did not vote on it. It will be eligible for consideration in the 2012 short session but would seem to be ineligible for this year’s special sessions.
S 397, Expunge Nonviolent Offense by Minor. This bill creates a process by which a youthful offender may have his/her record expunged of a nonviolent felony. Sent to the Governor.
S 415, Eliminate Cost/Reduced-Price School Breakfast. School breakfasts would be provided at no cost for qualifying students so long as funds are available. The State Auditor would be required to audit the office in the Department of Public Instruction which oversees federally funded food services programs. Sent to the Governor.
S 498, Modify Law Re: Corporal Punishment. Parents throughout the state would be able to sign a form requesting that corporal punishment not be administered to their child. Sent to the Governor.
S 709, Energy Jobs Act. While the short title speaks only about jobs, the long title is a bit more complete. It speaks first of increasing energy production, then of economic growth, job creation, and expansion of business and industry. What S 709 would do is to open the door to offshore drilling, set aside $500 million from royalties to pay for damages that could happen, and start the process of onshore “fracking” for natural gas by authorizing a study. Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is a process for obtaining natural gas from shale rock which consumes great quantities of water, damages water supplies, impacts public health, and is generally a bad thing for the environment. Sent to the Governor.
The strategy on any of these bills that you oppose is to ask the Governor to veto it, and then ask your legislators, especially House Democrats, to sustain that veto.
By telephone: All legislative offices can be reached through the legislative switchboard – (919) 733-4111.
By e-mail: Legislative e-mail addresses follow the pattern of <first name dot last email@example.com>. (Example: Speaker Thom Tillis’ address is Thom.Tillis@ncleg.net.) If you have any question about the spelling of your legislator’s name or whether your legislator’s e-mail address uses a nickname, you can confirm addresses at the General Assembly’s web site: www.ncleg.net. Click on “House” or “Senate” and look for Member Lists.
By phone: (919) 733-4240
By Fax: (919) 733-2120
By e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org