@NCCapitol

@NCCapitol

House clears bills on education, law enforcement, alcohol sales, more

Posted April 29, 2015
Updated April 30, 2015

NC Flag, Legislative Building, Raleigh

— Members of the state House worked early into Thursday morning to push through dozens of measures in an effort to beat a key legislative "crossover" deadline. Most bills that don't contain spending or tax issues must pass by Thursday at midnight or risk failing for the session.

The following were among the matters debated by representatives:

'Catfishing'

The House approved the creation of a new Class H felony for anyone who knowingly impersonates someone else online to harm, threaten or defraud a third party. Both the third party and the person who’s being impersonated would have grounds to sue for damages.

​House Bill 794 is the third of three House bills this week aimed at protecting online privacy. It passed 116-0 and now goes to the Senate.

Law enforcement privacy

The mobile phone numbers of law enforcement officers and other emergency responders would be withheld from public records under House Bill 477, which House members gave tentative approval on a 116-0 vote. The bill must pass a final vote Thursday before going to the Senate.

When the bill was first drafted, it would have exempted a raft of public records associated with law enforcement, including property records. Those provisions, which were removed on the floor, were inspired by a recent case in which a Wake County assistant district attorney was targeted by criminals for reprisal.

Environmental controversy

The House voted 76-39 to decrease the number of situations in which the State Environmental Policy Act would apply to state-funded projects.

Known as SEPA, the law is designed to make sure taxpayer funds aren't expended on projects that cause environmental harm.

"Right now, it is more of a redundancy," said Rep. John Torbett, R-Gaston, adding that other environmental measures played a similar role.

His bill would limit reviews to projects that cost more than $20 million.

"This bill has been called reform, and I really think it's more in the nature of a repeal," Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson, said.

McGrady said the bill is neither the disaster some environmental advocates would claim nor the money saver that its backers claim. In the past year, he said, two-thirds of the projects subjected to the review were related to solar farms.

A few members were less sanguine.

"It's not duplicative," said Rep. Pricey Harrison, D-Guilford. "It provides a broader view when a project is proposed and gives the public an opportunity for input."

The measure is now pending in the state Senate.

"What’s troubling is that the House pushed this legislation through without any study or review of the impacts on the use of public funds and public lands," said Dustin Chicurel-Bayard, communications director for North Carolina Sierra Club.

Education bills

The House passed a trio of education policy bills through the chamber, attracting some of the lengthiest debates of the evening. Those bills were not designed to pass as standalone measures. Rather, they were designed to vet certain policies before those measures appeared in the budget.

House Bill 660 pushes for more classrooms to be connected to high-speed Internet services and would continue the transition away from paper textbooks toward online and digital materials. The measure drew criticism from traditionalists, who said the state should focus on more basic education needs.

"A kid can learn just as well from a book as he can from a notebook computer or an iPad," said Rep. Michael Speciale, R-Craven. "It would be nice if they (classrooms) were connected. ... It would be much nicer if the roofs weren't leaking and the walls weren't falling down."

But other members, including the chamber's top leader, said digital education was critical for up-and-coming students.

"If anyone in this chamber thinks digital learning isn't important, they're sadly mistaken," House Speaker Tim Moore said.

House Bill 661 would offer scholarships to teachers who agree to teach in some of the state's most difficult-to-fill positions. The measure is largely viewed as a rekindling of the now-defunct teaching fellows program. However, the new teacher recruitment bill will not be as far-reaching.

House Bill 902 would create a new grant program for training principals.

"Great principals make great schools," said Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union, the lead author of all three education measures.

All three bills passed by wide margins and will be sent to the Senate.

A fourth bill, House Bill 662, would have combined a number of ideas dealing with digital learning, rewarding high-performing teachers and restructuring teacher pay. This measure got the most debate of the four, with opponents saying it would be too costly.

"There is not an education group in the state that supports this right now," Rep. Rick Glazier, D-Cumberland, said. "It is absolutely impossible to do with existing resources."

In particular, Glazier said, the bill would draw too many resources away from base pay for all teachers.

After the debate hit a stalemate on the floor, Moore, R-Cleveland, sent the measure to the Appropriations Committee for further consideration.

Emergency phone tracing

Law enforcement will be able to get the position of a cellphone without a warrant under emergency situations if House Bill 804 becomes law. The measure, which now goes to the Senate, passed the House 119-1.

The measure was named the Kelsey Smith Act in honor of a Kansas teen who was kidnapped and killed. While wireless providers could find her phone, they were unable to legally give law enforcement her location for four days. This bill is designed to avoid that situation by giving law enforcement the authority to ask for the information. As well, it provides wireless carriers immunity from civil suits when they give that information in the case of such an emergency.

Jury excuses

Clerks of court would be required to keep a log of the reasons people were excused from jury duty for at least two years under House Bill 100, which passed 111-6.

The bill now, which now goes to the Senate, will require clerks to transmit that information to local boards of elections.

Rep. George Cleveland, R-Onslow, said the data would be useful in rooting out fraud. In particular, these records have been used by advocates and journalists to look for non-citizens on the voter rolls. One of the reasons that a person is excused from jury duty is that they are "not a citizen" of the state.

Parental rights

House lawmakers approved a bill that spells out the fundamental rights of parents to control their children’s education and health care but stops short of its original intent to require parental consent for medical treatment such as birth control.

Sponsor Rep. Jonathan Jordan, R-Ashe, said that House Bill 847 started out “much larger and more controversial” but was whittled down in committee. It was further narrowed by an amendment by Rep. Rick Glazier, D-Cumberland, adding that it does not denote any new parental rights that don’t otherwise exist under state or federal law.

Noted

As well, the House sent to the Senate:

  • a bill allowing bars to buy antique liquor, which hasn't been in production for more than 20 years, in order to sell it. House Bill 909 allows the bars to get the tax stamps they need to legally sell from older bottles, which they often have to buy from private stocks rather than wholesalers.
  • several bills calling for lawmakers to study certain issues. Among those was a bill that would require lawmakers considering getting rid of second primaries. These runoff elections come about when nobody running in a primary manages to garner at least 40 percent of the vote. Second primaries tend to be very low turnout affairs.
  • insurance customers would see a new disclosure line on their policy statements under a proposal by Rep. Jeff Collins, R-Nash. The bill requires insurance companies to disclose to policyholders how much they’re paying to support the state’s reinsurance pool that covers drivers with otherwise clean records who’ve been turned down by private insurance companies.
  • a bill that would allow the makers of hard cider to sell it in growlers, large refillable "growlers."
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