State News

N.C. lawmakers working to get done before next week

Posted July 10, 2008 2:38 p.m. EDT
Updated July 10, 2008 8:47 p.m. EDT

— Aiming for adjournment next week, the General Assembly put in a full day's work Thursday before the weekend, debating dozens of bills and sending several to Gov. Mike Easley's desk.

Lawmakers usually leave for home by midday Thursday, but most stuck around until late afternoon, working behind closed doors to find compromises between competiting versions bills passed by the House and Senate. They hope to wrap all the session by July 18.

Last year at this time, "there were four or five sort of big bills that were still hanging," House Speaker Joe Hackney, D-Orange, said, but this year, "I really don't think there's anything else that's in a 'has-to-happen' category."

Senate Majority Leader Tony Rand, D-Cumberland, quipped the only item pressing is "the adjournment resolution. That's all I know."

Among the items for Thursday, the House narrowed the state auditor's role in ethics investigations, and Rand said the chambers are near an agreement on legislation three years in the making that would toughen penalties for gang behavior.

Bills in conference committees would toughening prison sentences and restrictions for convicted sex offenders and order school systems to come up with anti-bullying or harassment policies.

A House measure enumerated acts that may be included as bullying behavior, including acts based on a person's race, religion, physical appearance or sexual orientation, but the Senate removed the list. The bill's orginial sponsor said the list could prevent injury and the possible deaths of children who are repeatedly abused verbally, or who lash out in retribution.

"The only true protection comes when you make certain that the most vulnerable populations in your district are recognized as potential targets," Rep. Rick Glazier, D-Cumberland, said.

Other legislation expected to receive final approval would create new stormwater control rules for development in 20 coastal counties and help subprime mortgage borrowers receive assistance to prevent foreclosures.

Hog farm legislation that cleared the Senate and a moratorium on involuntary municipal annexation that passed the House probably won't pass this year, legislative leaders said Thursday.

Hackney said it's too late in the session for his chamber to take up the hog bill, which would allow farmers to rebuild or retool aging or damaged swine houses without having to follow decade-old setback rules. And the Senate wants to study the municipal annexation issue with the House this fall but without the moratorium, according to Rand.

Rand said he doesn't know whether the Senate will take up the proposed Racial Justice Act that passed the House last year. The measure would allow defendants to argue that race improperly played a role in a prosecutor's decision to seek the death penalty or in them receiving the sentence.

The Rev. William Barber, president of the state chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, told senators this week they shouldn't worry if they could be labeled "soft on crime" at election time if they endorse it.

"We understand our representatives must face the voters. But you also must look in the mirror," Barber wrote Wednesday. "And we must also look into the faces of African-Americans who have been victimized by racism in the criminal justice system."

Lawmakers also must deal with Easley, who wants a package passed before adjournment that would give him and future governors more authority to respond to droughts. The House is expected to consider the bill Monday evening. The Senate has to yet consider it.

Easley also may veto a provision that would allow motorists to tow boats up to 10 feet wide at night, chief lobbyist Franklin Freeman said. Bills heard in both the House and Senate finance committees Thursday would remove current restrictions on drivers towing boats on holidays, weekends and at night. The House panel ultimately removed boats from the bill it considered.

"I don't like to be heavy-handed, I'm just trying the best we can to rattle before we strike," Freeman said.

Action taken by lawmakers on Thursday includes:

  • The Senate debated for an hour before passing a bill to bar gun sales to some individuals who have been involuntarily committed to mental-health hospitals. The names would be included in a FBI national database. The bill next goes to the House.
  • The House Finance Committee approved legislation to allow 53-foot tractor-trailers on all primary roads. An amendment to the bill also passed, which gives the state Department of Transportation authority to deem some roads unsafe for the longer trucks.
  • The Senate approved a bill that, under some circumstances, would allow hog farmers to rebuild or retool older buildings and facilities without meeting setback requirements from homes or property lines required for those built after 1995. The bill goes to the governor.
  • A House judiciary committee delayed voting on a bill to increase the penalties for hanging nooses and burning crosses when perpetrators are carrying out the acts to intimidate people. Lawmakers will have more time to study and propose changes to the bill.