State News

Ethics reform in jeopardy as legislative session wraps up

Posted July 9, 2010 4:05 a.m. EDT
Updated July 10, 2010 1:07 a.m. EDT

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— North Carolina lawmakers reconvened early Saturday discussing issues like the broad ethics and government reform legislation.

House and Senate leaders negotiated behind the scenes for much of Friday on the ethics reform package. The main sticking point is a provision in the House bill that would restrict campaign contributions by people with state contracts. Senate leaders want to study the issue more.

"We're still working through the tough provisions and the differences between the bills, but we've made significant progress," said Rep. Rick Glazier, D-Cumberland.

"The discussion was about how do we accomplish what we want to accomplish," Senate Majority Leader Martin Nesbitt said.

Reform advocates and lobbyists said they've pushed various aspects of the bill for months, if not years, and they were frustrated that the measure was coming down to the final hours of the legislative session.

"It is sort of a curiosity that the bill that will give the public a better right to know about how government operates is all being done behind closed doors," said John Bussian, an attorney who specializes in First Amendment law.

Jane Pinsky, director of the North Carolina Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform, said she was waiting out the debate in the halls of the Legislative Building in hopes of seeing a last-minute accord.

"Part of sitting and waiting is reminding people this is an issue they have to deal with, and they can't just walk away from it," Pinsky said. "I don't think there are many corrupt (people) in state government, but the perception is that they are, and that's what has to be addressed."

Senate negotiators said they expected to vote on an ethics bill late Friday, but a House member said it could actually be sometime Saturday, putting the goal of adjourning shortly after midnight in jeopardy.

House Majority Leader Hugh Holliman said lawmakers were trying to do their best to pass ethics reform, but there's always next year.

"If it doesn't (get worked out), we'll be back in January to take care of it," said Holliman, D-Davidson.

Other last-minute bills include extending or expanding tax breaks to industries legislators want to attract to the state, including movies and computer data centers, and directing law enforcement to take DNA samples of people arrested on serious charges

The House passed the incentives bill 72-35 on Friday morning, but the legislation was later amended to add language to help targeted businesses, necessitating more votes.

The DNA bill was sent back to a House committee Friday afternoon and required House and Senate negotiators to hammer out differences between their competing proposals. State law now allows law enforcement to collect DNA only after someone has been convicted.