Raleigh, N.C. — The General Assembly would eliminate its commission that studies ways to reduce and eliminate childhood deaths as part of a sprawling, 58-page bill that the House Rules Committee approved Thursday afternoon.
Known as a "technical corrections" bill, House Bill 1133 makes changes to dozens of different statutes. Many of those changes are technical in nature, changing statutory citations, correcting spelling and punctuation or resolving conflicts between separate state laws. Such bills are among the last measures to be rolled out during a legislative session, often cleaning up the language in bills passed only weeks earlier.
But such technical bills are notorious among lawmakers and legislative observers for harboring substantial changes to state law that powerful lawmakers want to see done before the end of the legislative session. This particular bill, according to Rep. Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, was originally crafted by a group of senior House and Senate lawmakers in order to expedite its passage.
Asked about the elimination of the Child Fatality Task Force, Moore said, "that was a Senate provision." He went on to add that, as it was explained during the drafting process, the commission duplicates some efforts already done by executive branch agencies.
"Some agencies are doing some of the same things," Moore said.
House lawmakers proposed eliminating the task force in the 2013 budget process. That provision was eventually left out of the final budget deal. At the time, those pressing for the change said the task force often offered up suggestions for new laws that added regulations to the books, which ran counter to Republican efforts to cut down on government rules.
Under the technical corrections bill, the task force would be eliminated effective June 30, 2015. The co-chairmen of the task force could not be immediately reached for comment.
"I think that's problematic," Rep. Rick Glazier, R-Cumberland, said of the move.
Glazier said that Democrats would try to amend the measure when it goes to the House floor.
Now that it has cleared the committee, the bill next goes to the floor. After that, it would be considered by the Senate.
Other provisions affect charter schools, business recruiting
Other provisions in the bill touched on high-profile issues. They included the following:
- The measure would prohibit the State Board of Education from placing conditions on who may serve on a charter school board. Currently, the state board prohibits employees of companies that provide goods and services to charter schools from serving on the boards that govern the privately run but publicly funded schools. Employees of a charter management group that provides a school's curriculum and/or administration would be allowed, under the proposal, to sit on the nonprofit board that oversees the school and is in charge of hiring that company.
Rep. Susi Hamilton, D-New Hanover, attempted to amend the provision to give the State Board of Education the continued ability to oversee the makeup of virtual charter school boards. Although the state doesn't currently have any virtual charters, education officials are studying what rules might apply to the schools that teach students mainly through distant learning classes.
"We want to see how they function before we give carte blanche," Hamilton said. "There are some opportunities for abuse."
But others on the committee, including Rep. Ruth Samuelson, R-Mecklenburg, said they favored virtual charters. The committee rejected the Hamilton amendment.
- A new public-private partnership that will carry out many of the state's economic development functions would be exempt from state contracting laws that encourage participation from small companies owned by minority, disabled and other people who are traditionally at a disadvantage in landing government contracts.
Rep. Larry Hall, D-Durham, attempted to remove that provision but lost a committee vote. Moore said that the Department of Commerce, which will work with the Economic Development Partnership, had requested the change.
- The bill would also eliminate a requirement that went into effect July 1 that requires clerks of court to report within 48 hours to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System when someone is convicted of a crime that would prohibit them from legally purchasing a pistol. Moore said that other agencies are responsible for reporting information to NICS, but it's unclear from how the language is drawn what that other agency might be or under what law they would be required to report. The reporting requirement was included as part of a recently passed rewrite of firearms laws.
Bill meets with suspicion
Although the offering of a technical corrections bill is an annual event in the legislature – and a welcome one because it harbingers the end of session – this bill still raised some hackles, even among Republicans.
"It amends all sorts of hundreds of provisions in a hodgepodge bill," Rep. John Blust, R-Guilford, said.
Moore acknowledged Blust's skepticism and the reasons for it. In some years, Moore noted, the technical corrections bills were debuted late in the night soon after being written.
"In years past, we'd get these things, and they'd still be hot from the photocopier," Moore said.
This measure, he said, had been circulated to members in advance of the meeting, although copies weren't distributed to the public until the meeting began.
The criticism by Blust flared at another point when members spotted a section that dealt with contracts between insurance companies and eye doctors. The provision would have allowed insurers to negotiate contracts that require doctors to offer discounts on goods and services the insurance company doesn't cover. Although it was taken out of the bill, the vision provision would have gutted a law passed earlier this year that prohibited such contracts.
"How did this even get into the bill?" Blust asked.
That question provoked chuckles and whistles, but nobody gave a real answer. Prompted by that lack of response, Blust said, "It just shows why this kind of bill is very dangerous."
Moore said that the bill was getting a review and that problematic provisions had been caught.
"This the process working," Moore said.