Technical corrections moves forward without job recruiting language

The Senate Rules Committee dropped language from a sprawling technical bill that would have rewritten rules on when the Commerce Department had to disclose information about job recruiting.

Posted Updated
Mark Binker
RALEIGH, N.C. — The end-of-session "technical corrections" bill got a little more, well, technical Tuesday, as senators removed several provisions that had been the subject of potential controversy. 

The 93-section, 64-page bill covers everything from the operations of a small columbarium where the ashes of the deceased are stored to child support orders, gun laws and public records. Many of the changes were recommended by groups looking to fix references in statutory language or errors in drafting prior bills.

Technical corrections measures are notorious for serving as vehicles for last-minute legislation that otherwise had a hard time getting heard on its own. They also tend to be the harbinger of the end of the legislative session.

As rolled out by the Senate Rules Committee on Tuesday morning, House Bill 1133 closely resembles the measure that left the state House last week. Among the most notable changes from the House bill to the initial Senate draft was that senators dropped a provision dealing with charter schools.

The provision in question would have blocked the State Board of Education from developing rules on who may serve on a charter school's nonprofit board. Current state board rules block anyone who is or works for a vendor to a publicly funded but privately-run charter school from serving on that school's board of directors. Backers say the state's current rules ensure that the same people who sell a curriculum or are hired to manage a charter school's staff are not the same people providing oversight over operations.

In the House, the measure curtailing the state board's authority was controversial. Several lawmakers, including Rep. Susi Hamilton, D-New Hanover, attempted to preserve the state board's ability to regulate the membership of virtual charter schools, but that effort failed. 

Senators headed off that controversy by leaving the board's ability to regulate the makeup of charter school boards in place. 

Bill scales back firearms reporting 

During the Rules Committee's review of the bill Tuesday morning, Sen. Buck Newton, R-Wilson, raised an objection to part of the bill that would cut back the amount of information reported to the national database of those who are not allowed to buy firearms. 

In a 2013 bill, lawmakers had ordered clerks of court to report anything filed with their offices that would be a reason not to issue someone a permit to buy or carry a firearm.

"I'm not at all satisfied this is the route we ought to take," said Newton, who had been one of the sponsors of the 2013 measure that generally expanded the rights of gun owners.

Mildred Spearmen, a legislative liaison for the Administrative Office of the Courts, said that court clerks offices were not able to do all that the 2013 law would have required. Clerks don't read all filings that cross their desk and wouldn't always know what they should report.

As well, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System doesn't want some of the information that clerks would run across, she said.

Gregg Stahl, a lobbyist for the North Carolina Sheriffs Association, said that his group and others were working on new language that would report certain information nobody else was already reporting to NICS. Three of the most urgent types of information, he said, would concern fugitive warrants, misdemeanor drug convictions and domestic violence orders. 

Economic development language removed

One portion of the bill would have rewritten language dealing with when the Commerce Department would have to release public records related to job recruitment.

According to Sen. Fletcher Hartsell, R-Cabarrus, the section in question was an attempt to clarify language in the bill that created the North Carolina Economic Development Partnership, a nonprofit group that will take up many of the job-recruiting functions currently carried out by the Commerce Department. 

"It just makes it easier to understand when things will be subject to public records disclosure," John Hoomani, a lawyer for the Commerce Department, told the committee.

But several members objected to language that would let the Commerce Department keep information about an incentives package that was offered to a company, but rejected, secret from the public.

"Why is it you don't want to disclose what you've offered people?" asked Sen. Clark Jenkins, D-Edgecombe. "I think it would be helpful to understand why they might have missed the boat on a project." 

Hoomani said disclosing such information could "harm the department's position in future negotiations." For example, he argued, other companies might demand more incentives if they know what prior companies had been offered, and rejected, for a similar project. 

Sen. Josh Stein, D-Wake, objected to a provision that would allow Department of Commerce to withhold documents if disclosing them would "frustrate the purpose" for which they were created.

"That seems to give the Department of Commerce broad discretion to do what it wants," Stein said.

After the objections began to roll in, Hartsell asked that the provision be struck from the bill. However, it's unclear what the effect of removing the section would have. Its provisions rewrote, but did not appear to change, the substance of, the public-private partnership legislation passed earlier this year. 

The entire technical corrections measure is due to be heard by the full Senate this week.


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