Raleigh, N.C. — Welcome to Today @NCCapitol for Tuesday, May 20, 2014. Here's what you need to know about the General Assembly and elsewhere in state government.
SALUTE: It is Military Appreciation Day. There will be festivities inside and outside the legislative building, culminating with lawmakers adopting a formal resolution during their 1 p.m. sessions.
FIRST UP: The House Finance Committee meets at 8:30 a.m. and will take up changes to the state's unemployment law, several of which were requested by Gov. Pat McCrory. That package includes a change to the state's public records law that would close off certain notices regarding rejected claims that lawyers had been using to find potential clients. The provision had been the subject of controversy between state courts, which ordered the state to continue providing the records, and the U.S. Department of Labor, which said it was a violation of privacy rights to hand them out.
RESTED AND READY: A bill limiting the use of tanning beds by youngsters could have a healthy glow once again after being put in a dark corner in 2013. Teen tanning ban could resurface in 2014
House Bill 18, the “Youth Skin Cancer Prevention Act," would raise the state's minimum age for tanning bed use from 14 to 18. In its current form, it makes no exceptions for parental permission or a medical prescription. The measure faced opposition form the American Suntanning Association, an industry trade group, which convinced senators to sideline the measure last year. The industry has now dropped its opposition, potentially clearing it for a hearing.
IN THE HOUSE: The state House meets at 1 p.m. It is expected to take up a package of tax changes passed out of committee last week. The measure includes a cap on the privilege license taxes cities can charge to businesses and an excise tax on e-cigarettes.
Lawmakers are also scheduled to debate a bill that would keep 16- and 17-year-old offenders in the juvenile justice system. This Raise the Age bill was debated by the House on the last day of session in 2013, but a procedural objection kept it from moving over to the Senate.
WRAL.com plans to carry the House session live. Check the Video Central box on the home page.
IN THE SENATE: The Senate floor calendar is sparse. Sen. Trudy Wade, R-Guilford, has reported in a conference committee agreement regarding a minor bill dealing with well contractor licensing, which is the only measure on the calendar.
FRACKING: After the Senate session, the Senate Commerce and Finance committees are poised to take up Senate Bill 786, the "Energy Modernization Act," a measure that would make changes to the state's laws dealing with natural gas drilling. The measure is a mixed bag for industry and environmental groups. Environmentalists are pleased by provisions that would require companies to hand over a list of chemical constituents used in the hydraulic fracturing process, or "fracking," to government, but those chemicals would be kept secret short of an accident. The measure also prohibits local governments from regulating anything having to do with gas drilling.
The Senate Commerce Committee is scheduled to take up this bill at 2 p.m. There is a Senate Finance Committee scheduled at 4 p.m., and it is likely that this bill will be the subject of that meeting as well.
MORE COMMITTEES: Other committee meetings on the calendar include:
SENATE JUDICIARY I (10 a.m.): The committee will take up a measure known at the N.C. Commerce Protection Act. Bill sponsors say that provisions known as "ag gag" legislation, aimed at curbing undercover investigations of animal processing plants, will be removed. The remainder of the bill deals with how and when lawyers can encourage certain types of employment-related litigation.
SENATE ENVIRONMENT (11 a.m.): The committee will be taking up a bill to restrict the ability of local governments to regulate the use, sale, distribution, storage or handling of fertilizer.
AFP: Americans for Prosperity, a conservative group, holds a news conference at 9 a.m. at the downtown Sheraton to unveil a new media campaign that praises the General Assembly's 2013 tax measure.
MORAL MONDAY: Protesters returned to the General Assembly Monday evening, but in accordance with new rules regarding decorum in the Legislative Building, they avoided causing a disturbance.
Hundreds of people in the "Moral Monday" movement put tape across their mouths so they couldn't be accused of being loud enough to disrupt conversations, which is one of the standards set last week by a legislative committee for asking people to leave the Legislative Building and arresting them if they don't comply.
"We're not going to engage in civil disobedience today," the Rev. William Barber, leader of the "Moral Monday" protests and the state NAACP, declared before entering the building, adding that it would be the last time the group would willingly obey new rules about how to speak.
"You can't arrest us all. You can't shut us all up," Barber said, referring to last year's protests, which saw nearly 1,000 people arrested. While the Moral Monday group decried a number of policies put forward by the Republican lead legislature, a new conservative group said lawmakers should be lauded for their work.
Carolina Rising and its director, Dallas Woodhouse, said the protesters should be praising state lawmakers. The state's falling unemployment rate is proof that GOP initiatives are working, he said.
"It is good policy that is creating good results with continued tax relief and reform, regulatory reform and unemployment insurance reform, signed into law by Gov. McCrory and put into place by this legislature," Woodhouse said.
PROTECTING STATE OFFICIALS: Reacting to the kidnapping of the father of a Wake County prosecutor, McCrory on Monday proposed tougher penalties for those who provide cell phones to inmates and those who retaliate against or threaten state officials or their relatives.
A HEALTHY FISCAL OUTLOOK: State Treasurer Janet Cowell said Monday that state workers and retirees won't have to pay the planned 2.14 percent increase in premiums next year because the State Health Plan is doing better than expected financially. The health plan is forecast to be $180 million in the black by the end of June, contrasting sharply with its steep losses in recent years. Also, since lawmakers moved the State Health Plan under Cowell's control two years ago, the unfunded liability for retirees benefits has been cut by $10 billion, she wrote in a letter to Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and House Speaker Thom Tillis.
ATHLETES: From the Associated Press:
RALEIGH, N.C. — A North Carolina union for public workers will allow scholarship student-athletes at public universities to join as state employees.
The State Employees Association of North Carolina's governing board voted Friday to open the group's membership to athletes at the state's 17 public campuses, which would include Atlantic Coast Conference members North Carolina and North Carolina State.
The union decision comes two months after a federal labor official ruled that football players at Northwestern University could create the nation's first union of college athletes. That ruling is being appealed to the National Labor Relations Board, and some Northwestern players say they voted against forming the union in an election. The results have not been released.
The North Carolina union's decision would not require a team vote and is based on an individual athlete's choice on whether to join. It is unclear if the union's invitation would be open to just scholarship athletes, or walk-ons — or whether there are NCAA rules preventing the athletes to be classified as state employees. There is no minimum number of athletes needed to join before SEANC can represent them in negotiations.
"What the group has definitively decided is to change our own membership rules to allow them to join," SEANC spokeswoman Toni Davis said Monday.