House splits regulatory reform effort into two bills

To make a wide-ranging effort to overhaul state and local regulations more palatable to skittish Republican lawmakers, a House committee split the bill up Tuesday before approving both.

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Matthew Burns
RALEIGH, N.C. — To make a wide-ranging effort to overhaul state and local regulations more palatable to skittish Republican lawmakers, a House committee split the bill up Tuesday before approving both.

After quickly progressing through two committees in one morning last week, one regulatory bill was pulled off the House floor and sent back to the House Regulatory Reform Committee after members of the Republican caucus expressed reservations about some provisions.

The committee stripped the measure, Senate Bill 493, down to health care-related provisions, such as requiring insurers to cover behavioral treatment for young people with autism, setting rules for pharmacy benefits management organizations and prohibiting anyone younger than 18 from using tanning beds. The committee then gutted a second regulatory reform bill, Senate Bill 734, and inserted business and government changes pulled from Senate Bill 493 into it.

Senate Bill 734 originally included provisions that would have eliminated some air-quality monitoring stations, allowed regulated businesses to avoid civil fines or penalties for a leak or spill as long as they report it and correct it, increased fines for parking in handicapped spaces and exempted non-public schools from state licensing and childcare regulations, among other provisions. The amended bill updated building codes, streamlined the state's rule-making process and repealed outdated statutes.

Tanning bed limit prompts heated discussion

The tanning bed prohibition, which easily passed the House last year but has languished in the Senate, elicited the most debate in the health-related bill. Rep. Michael Speciale, R-Craven, tried to have it removed from the bill, saying government had no business interfering with a parent's right to allow a child to use a tanning bed.

Rep. Paul Stam, R-Wake, countered that government law already prohibits 15-year-olds from drinking or smoking, regardless of what a parent says. Exposure to the ultraviolet radiation in tanning beds is a similar health hazard that needs to be regulated, he said.

"The key is, we have a sun that does the same thing," Speciale responded, arguing that teens seeking a tan would get it one way or another and expose themselves to the same radiation.

"As state government, let's just back off," he said.

The amendment was eventually defeated in a 29-21 vote.

Mug shot proposal shifted to study

Rep. Carla Cunningham, D-Mecklenburg, asked that the autism coverage be scaled back a couple of years. Noting that she has a grandson with autism, she said she wanted to encourage parents to get children tested and into treatment earlier, and coverage until age 23 really wouldn't help their overall quality of life.

Other lawmakers noted that the State Health Plan provides autism coverage through age 26, and a number of other states offer coverage well into the 20s. The amendment was easily defeated.

The remade second bill shifted two provisions that generated much debate last week into studies. One would allow landlords to use private firms to serve eviction notices on tenants, while the second would exempt the mug shots of people charged with misdemeanors from the state's public records law unless they were convicted. A third study committee would look at applying certain state ethics rules to local officials.

Democrats twice failed to delete or change a provision in the bill that would eliminate the required super-majority vote on a city council when residents have filed a protest petition over a zoning change or development.

"It's an important tool for neighbors," Rep. Pricey Harrison, D-Guilford, said of protest petitions. "It gives people a voice in the debate."

Republican committee members argued that petitions gave too much power to too few people and said the zoning process is now so lengthy that neighbors have plenty of opportunity to voice their concerns and push for changes to a pending project.

"It allows a few not-in-my-backyard people to control a whole lot of other people," said Rep. Dana Bumgardner, R-Gaston.

Rep. Andy Wells, R-Catawba, a commercial real estate agent, compared a protest petition to a nuclear weapon that is used to destroy development.

Speciale tried to add a provision to the bill that would have allowed cosmetologists to use barber poles to attract business. He said the licensing boards of the two groups are feuding, and allowing the practice to continue until lawmakers could sort it out next year was the best way to settle the matter.

Committee Chairman Bill Brawley jokingly asked for some assurance from Speciale that he would find the same ambiance at a "beauty parlor" with a barber pole that he seeks in a barber shop, including calendars featuring cigar-smoking dogs, ESPN on television and guys discussing hunting and fishing. After a brief discussion, the amendment failed.

Both bills now head to the House floor.

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