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State Legislators Go Back to Work

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RALEIGH — Heated debate is expected underneath the green pyramids on Jones Street for the next few days as state lawmakers wrap up their session.

Lawmakers returned to the job Wednesday to pick up where they left off before the holiday weekend. By Wednesday evening, they had already completed some important votes.

A one-year ban on billboards along Interstate 40 from Orange County to Wilmington was killed by the state House. Members voted 55-54 to reject the proposed extension on the billboard moratorium.

The surprise vote came days after the state Senate passed the bill, and Governor Hunt considered the billboard ban a top priority.

The House also passed a bill that approves construction of a toll road in Gaston County. It would be part of a pilot project to explore using toll roads in the North Carolina on some of the state's new highway construction. The measure now goes to the state Senate for its approval.

There are many bills still to be debated in the coming days, including an law prohibiting passengers in cars, trucks, and vans to have an open container of alcohol.

State legislatures must passopen container lawsby October 1, or they will lose their federal highway funding.

Warren CountySenator Frank Ballance, a Democrat, says the pressure from Washington to pass the law is an example of federal edicts overriding state's rights.

"There was a time when the states had rights," Ballance said. "We could pass laws that we thought were good for the state of North Carolina, and those passing through our state. Now, the government comes in and tells us what to do, when to do it, how to do it, and everybody's running afraid of the government."

A new measure to increase penalties against cyberstalkers who send harassing e-mail and viruses passed the House and Senate. Governor Hunt's signature will make it the law of the land.

The bill's chief sponsor,Rep. Bob Hensley, D-Wake County, feels that the bill had been watered down.

"It's still better than we had for computer law in the state," Hensley said. "In all, it's a positive, but it's not what I wanted. I'll just have to come back and redo it next year."

Lawmakers are also wrestling over what to do with nearly $5 billion in tobacco settlement money. A House plan would give more money to farmers over the next few years, rather than spreading out the payments over many years.

Johnston CountyRep. Leo Daughtry, a Republican, wants to give farmers their money sooner than later.

"We believe the farmers need their money now, as opposed to 10, 12, or 15 years down the road," Daughtry said. "They could not be here. They could be gone."

Lawmakers plan to be in session through Friday, at least.

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Len Besthoff, Reporter
Ron Pittman, Photographer
Brian Shrader, Web Editor

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