Raleigh, N.C. — The state Senate on Wednesday quickly approved three bills that would fast-track natural gas drilling in North Carolina, limit protests at military funerals and open some workers compensation insurance information to public inspection.
After a heated debate Tuesday, the Senate passed Senate Bill 76 with no discussion by a 39-7 vote and forwarded it to the House.
The bill removes the requirement that state lawmakers must approve rules before the first well can be drilled. Instead, it gives the Department of Environment and Natural Resources the authority to start issuing permits on March 1, 2015, without the legislature's say-so.
The date is five months after the October 2014 deadline lawmakers set last year for the DENR and the state Mining and Energy Commission to establish regulations for the drilling industry.
Other changes in the bill include removing the state geologist and water and air experts from the state Mining and Energy Commission, allowing drillers to inject production waste fluids back into the ground, repealing the law requiring "land men" to register with the state and streamlining the permitting process to a single permit, removing checkpoints at which DENR could look for problems.
Also Wednesday, the Senate passed a bill that would increase the penalties for those who protest and create disturbances at military funerals.
House Bill 19 was drawn up in response to groups such as the Westboro Baptist Church, which has often created disturbances at military funerals to promote an anti-gay message. The legislation expands the buffer areas around military funerals and makes second and third offenses a felony.
As it did in the House, the bill received unanimous approval in the Senate and was sent to Gov. Pat McCrory. His staff said Wednesday that he supports the measure.
Senate Bill 44, which also received unanimous approval before heading to the House, would expand the amount of information about an employer's workers compensation policy that falls under the state public records laws.
Previously, only policy effective dates, cancellation dates and reinstatement dates were open for public inspection. The bill would add individual company names and the names of their insurance carriers.