Local Politics

Lawmakers consider bills on execution, probation

A bill designed to let death-row inmates allege racial bias also could unravel a legal knot that has put executions on hold in North Carolina since 2006.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — A bill designed to let death-row inmates allege racial bias also could unravel a legal knot that has put executions on hold in North Carolina since 2006.

The state Senate tentatively agreed Wednesday to legislation that attempts to ensure race isn't a factor in a death penalty case but also seeks to remove obstacles to carry out executions.

The amendment by GOP Sen. Phil Berger affirms a state Supreme Court ruling that found the state Medical Board couldn't punish doctors participating in executions.

It also says the Council of State shouldn't sign off on execution protocols. That could make moot a pending lawsuit filed by attorneys for death row inmates challenging that protocol.

The bill was approved 35-13. A final Senate vote could come Thursday.

Senate adopts fixes to flawed probation system
Lawmakers in North Carolina have approved fixing failures in a probation system that allowed more than 12,000 offenders to disappear from required oversight.

The state Senate voted 47-1 on Wednesday to back Gov. Beverly Perdue's recommendations to fix problems uncovered after University of North Carolina student president Eve Carson was slain last year. The two men charged with her killing were on probation.

The bill would allow probation officers to access an offender's juvenile records, or search a probationer's home or pockets without a warrant as a condition of probation.

Correction Department spokesman Keith Acree said 12,488 parolees were missing Wednesday, down from 14,000 in February when Republican lawmakers focused on the problem.

Lawmakers consider bills on emissions, snakes
The House Commerce Committee recommended a bill Wednesday that would give industries other options to show officials that their pollution sources won't exceed state emission control standards.

The bill now goes to the House floor.

A version sought by business interests that passed another House panel this week would have exempted polluters from state standards already covered under federal rules.

Conservation groups opposed that bill because they said it would dismantle the state's air toxins program and would make it harder to protect public health from emissions.

Molly Diggins with the state Sierra Club said the amended bill is a reasonable alternative that doesn't damage the air quality program.

In the Senate, lawmakers approved a bill that would allow district attorneys and assistant district attorneys to carry concealed weapons.

Another bill passed targets venomous snakes. Owners would be required to have secure cages, and to contact police if the snake escapes, or face a fine.

Both bills will be sent to the House.

Schools could open earlier
North Carolina public school districts could start classes as much as 2 1/2 weeks earlier in a bill tentatively approved in the House.

The bill approved 77-41 Wednesday is the latest effort by state education groups to loosen a 2004 law requiring schools to begin no earlier than Aug. 25 and end by June 10. The measure would move the start date to as early as Aug. 8.

The original law has been defended by the tourism industry and parents who want to keep traditional summer vacations.

Bill supporters said districts should have the flexibility to decide when classes begin. Rep. Paul Luebke of Durham County argued it also would ensure exams end before Christmas break.

A final vote could come Thursday. Then it would go to the Senate.

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