Senate OKs Iran divestment, revolving-door changes

Posted April 27, 2015

— With the crossover deadline approaching Thursday, Senate lawmakers worked quickly Monday night to approve a list of proposals, including Iran divestment, car insurance, revolving-door employment and ferry privatization.

Crossover is the date set in each biennial session by which bills that don't deal with budgeting, agency recommendations or local changes must pass one of the two chambers in order to remain alive for the remainder of the two-year session. While there are always ways to circumvent that rule, lawmakers generally try to abide by the deadline.

After a slow start to the year, Senate leaders shifted into higher gear Monday night, whizzing through 17 bills in just over an hour. Most received little or no debate.

IRAN DIVESTMENT: Senate Bill 455 requires the state to divest of any investments in or contracts with companies with investments in Iran's energy sector.

"We all know that Iran is a threat to international security and stability, not only to the United States but to our allies," said sponsor Sen. Rick Gunn, R-Alamance. "We need to show our support."

The State Treasurer's Office, however, divested itself of any such investments five years ago, when the federal government first encouraged states to do so. Sen. Floyd McKissick, D-Durham, called the proposal "unnecessary" and questioned its purpose and timing, noting the politicization of negotiations currently underway between Iran and a group of nations including the U.S.

"It’s basically asking the Treasurer’s Office to do something it’s already done," McKissick said. "It seems purposely set to, I don’t know, maybe meddle a little bit in what’s going on in Washington."

"The purpose is to stand up for what your country believes in, stand up against our enemies," responded Sen. Ron Rabin, R-Harnett.

The measure passed 49-1 and is headed to the House.

FERRY PRIVATIZATION: Senate Bill 382 directs the state Department of Transportation to study whether the state's ferry system should be privatized.

Sponsor Sen. Bill Rabon, R-Brunswick, said the ferry system costs the state money both in operations and in capital expenses. Several of the fleet's 22 ferries are overdue for replacement.

“This is not putting anything up for sale. Don’t hit any alarm buttons,” said Rabon. "We want to ensure that we are getting the best bang for our buck, whether we are operating our system efficiently and whether there’s a better model out there."

The bill passed 48-2 and goes to the House.

REVOLVING DOOR: The Senate unanimously approved a six-month waiting period before state workers who manage or negotiate contracts with a vendor can go to work for that vendor.

The legislation was prompted by the 2013 resignation of Paul Guthery, an IT manager at the Department of Health and Human Services. Guthery was the "point person," according to the state auditor, for the agency's dealings with Computer Sciences Corp., the vendor that supplied NCTracks, the new Medicaid billing system. Guthery went to work for CSC almost immediately.

"Vendors that work with the state will have to submit an affidavit saying they will not or do not have any individuals that meet this criteria," said Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell.

If the vendor knowingly submits false information, it would be a Class I felony, and its contract with the state would be terminated.

That bill is also headed for the House.


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