By George Reed, Retired Executive Director
As the legislative session continues, there’s been a marked increase in the number of bills being introduced. Here are summaries of several which will be of interest to members of the Raleigh Report network.
The saga of HB2 continues, with the NCAA soon to be selecting sites for championships for the next six years and with Gov. Cooper yesterday proposing a compromise repeal (which hasn’t yet been introduced as legislation and has already been attacked by Sen. Berger and by GLBTQ advocates). Three bills have been introduced; all would repeal HB2 but differ in the details. Since all three are sponsored by Democrats, none is likely to be the vehicle for any change in the status of HB2.
H 78, HB2 Repeal/Equality for All. In addition to a complete and unconditional repeal of HB2, it would:
- Standardize the list of categories protected from discrimination under state law to include race, color, national origin, religion, age, disability, sex, marital status, familial status, sexual orientation, gender identity, military or veteran status, and genetic information. This list would apply to housing, employment, public accommodations, credit, insurance, and education (including public schools, charter schools, nonpublic schools, the community college system and the UNC system). While the lists of categories vary slightly from one area to another in existing law, none currently includes sexual orientation, gender identity, military or veteran status or genetic information.
- Specify, in the section on public accommodations, that it is not a violation to provide separate bathrooms and changing facilities based on gender, but access to these facilities shall be based on a person’s gender identity. This provision does not apply to private clubs or other establishments not in fact open to the public.
- Increase the penalties for various sexual assault crimes if they were committed in a bathroom, locker room, changing room, or shower room by someone of the opposite sex from that for which the bathroom, etc., is designated. Penalties would be increased by as much as seven years for the most serious sexual assaults.
Introduced by Rep. Brockman (D-High Point). Referred to House Rules.
H 82, Equality for All/Repeal HB2, is similar to H 78, but lacks the third provision, above, increasing penalties for sexual assaults.
Introduced by Reps. Harrison (D-Greensboro), Fisher (D-Asheville), Butler (D-Wilmington) and Autry (D-Charlotte). Referred to House Rules.
S 25, Repeal HB2, is a complete repeal but does not contain the extensions on anti-discrimination found in H 78 and H 82.
Introduced by Sens. J. Jackson (D-Charlotte), Bryant (D-Rocky Mount), and McKissick (D-Durham). Referred to Senate Rules.
H 46, GPS Tracking Pilot Program, would create a pilot program in Forsyth County to use GPS tracking devices on people who have committed acts of domestic violence. The bill sets out several factors to be considered in evaluating the pilot program and calls for a report back to the General Assembly in 2020.
Introduced by Reps. Lambeth (R-Winston-Salem), Conrad (R-Winston-Salem), Hanes (D-Winston-Salem), and Terry (D-Winston-Salem). Referred to House Appropriations.
H 35, Protect North Carolina Workers Act. Under current law, NC employers hiring 25 or more workers must use the federal E-Verify program to be sure all the workers are in this country legally. The primary impact of this disingenuously titled bill would be to increase the number of employers who must use E-Verify by dropping the threshold number of employees from 25 to five. In addition, current law defines “employees” to exclude those who work for less than nine months per year, which would include many seasonal farmworkers, a group likely to include undocumented immigrants and whose work is important to agricultural interest in NC. H 35 deletes that nine-month provision but replaces it with a provision that excludes from the definition all farm workers, independent contractors, and domestic workers in private homes, meaning that the employers of workers in those three categories don’t have to e-verify them. It’s almost an open invitation to employers to hire undocumented workers for those positions.
Introduced by Reps. Cleveland (R-Jacksonville), Millis (R-Hampstead), Conrad (R-Winston-Salem), and Destin Hall (R-Lenoir). Referred to House Commerce and, if favorable, to House Agriculture.
BUDGET AND TAXATION
H 83, Ensure Budget Transparency, would require any special provision in the state budget to indicate which legislator(s) requested that it be in the budget. Special provisions are items in the state budget which go beyond the mere allocation of state funds. They may have little or no connection to state funds, and they may deal with important and weighty matters which should be considered as free-standing bills, not tucked into the budget bill. The NC Council of Churches has been opposed to the extensive use of special provisions for almost 20 years. For more information and a sampling of the kinds of matters previously appearing as special provisions, see the Council’s policy statement.
Introduced by Rep. Insko (D-Chapel Hill). Referred to House Appropriations.
S 70, Study Sales Tax Exemption for Nonprofits. Under current law most 501(c)(3) nonprofits, including churches, have to pay sales taxes on their purchases, but can then apply for refunds semi-annually. S 70 would call for a legislative study of giving nonprofits a direct exemption from sales taxes, i.e. not having to pay them at all. As the NC Center for Nonprofits notes: “The Center has long advocated for North Carolina to move to a system of true sales tax exemption. This change would reduce nonprofits’ recordkeeping, filing, and reporting burdens, and would enable nonprofits to keep more of their own money rather than ‘loaning’ it to the state for up to six months while refunds are being processed.”
Introduced by Sens. D. Davis (D-Snow Hill) and Pate (R-Mount Olive). Referred to Senate Rules.
H 61, Small Business Income Tax Relief, would permit small businesses, defined as those with no more than $1 million in annual receipts, to get an income tax deduction of up to $50,000.
Introduced by Reps. K. Hall (R-King), Saine (R-Lincolnton), Brenden Jones (R-Tabor City), and Boswell (R-Kill Devil Hills). Referred to House Finance.
H 54, Protecting the Hardworking Taxpayers Act, is another bill whose title should put you on alert. Tax reforms enacted in recent years by the Republican legislature, with the signature of former Gov. McCrory, have greatly limited itemized deductions available to North Carolinians on their state income tax returns. Among the few deductions which survived were those for mortgage expenses and property taxes. They are still permitted but were capped at $20,000. H 54 would remove that cap, a big protection for those hardworking taxpayers with million-dollar homes. Of course, as with any reduction in tax revenues, there has to be a corresponding reduction in state services or increase in taxes paid by other hardworking taxpayers, including those who are buying $100,000 homes or renting.
Introduced by Reps. Hastings (R-Cherryville), Saine (R-Lincolnton), Howard (R-Mocksville), and Setzer (R-Catawba). Referred to House Finance.
S 38, Allow County-Wide Challenges/Absentee Ballots. Under current law, a registered voter can challenge an absentee ballot in his/her precinct. S 38 would extend the right-to-challenge to an entire county, opening new opportunities for voter suppression/intimidation.
Introduced by Sen. Cook (R-Chocowinity). Referred to Senate Rules.
The US Constitution sets out two ways by which it can be amended. The one which has been used numerous times, resulting in 27 amendments, is that Congress, by a two-thirds vote in both houses, adopts proposed amendments and sends them to the states. If three-fourths of the states approve, the amendment becomes part of the constitution. But Article V also provides for a constitutional convention to be called by the legislatures of two-thirds of the states, a process that has never been used. (Amendments proposed by such a convention would still have to be approved by three-fourths of the states.)
One of the projects of the right wing nationally has been to call a federal constitutional convention. These are people clearly not happy with how the current Constitution has worked out for them and not content to use the traditional amendment process. This discontent is in spite of the high degree of conservative control in all three branches of the federal government and in the majority of our 50 states. The following bills are related to the process that could radically change our constitution:
H 44/S 36, Convention of the States. These identical bills call for a constitutional convention and profess to “[l]imit the scope of the Convention to proposing amendments to the Constitution that (1) impose fiscal restraints on the federal government, (2) limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government, and (3) limit the terms of office for its officials and for members of Congress.” Among other points, this would seem to allow a change in the lifetime appointment of federal court judges, one of the most important parts of our system of checks and balances. Many legal experts question whether a constitutional convention, once convened, could be limited in the scope of changes it would propose; nothing in Article V would seem to permit such limitation.
Introduced by Reps. Bert Jones (R-Reidsville), Millis (R-Hampstead), Riddell (R-Snow Camp), and Setzer (R-Catawba) and Sens. Sanderson (R-Arapahoe), Hise (R-Spruce Pine), and Tucker (R-Waxhaw). Referred to House Judiciary I and, if favorable, House Appropriations, and to Senate Rules.
S 40, Constitutional Amendment Convention/Countermand, sets out terms and conditions for a constitutional convention for the sole purpose of adding a “countermand” amendment. (The actual call for a convention is found in S 41.) S 40 would permit, in its own words, “the states, upon a vote of three-fifths of the state legislatures, to nullify and repeal a federal statute, executive order, judicial decision, regulatory decision by a federal government agency, or government mandate imposed on the states by law that adversely affects the interests of the states, in order to properly exercise the states’ constitutional authority to check federal power, preserve state sovereignty, and protect the rights of the states and the people.” Delegates to this convention would be sent by the General Assembly, would be representatives of the General Assembly and would not be “free agents” (i.e., “they are authorized only to complete the terms and conditions defined in [S 40]”).
Introduced by Sens. Hise (R-Spruce Pine), Krawiec (R-Kernersville), and Rabin (R-Anderson Creek). Referred to Senate Rules.
H 52, Rescind Calls for Constitutional Convention, notes that the usual procedure for amending the constitution has worked in the past and can continue to be used if changes need to be made, and it raises concerns about “imminent peril to the well-established rights of the citizens and the duties of various levels of government” which would be raised by an unfettered constitutional convention. H 52 would revoke existing calls by the General Assembly for a national constitutional convention and call on the legislatures of other states to do the same.
Introduced by Reps. Elmore (R-North Wilkesboro), Jordan (R-Jefferson), and Jackson (D-Raleigh). Referred to House Judiciary I and, if favorable, to House Appropriations.