N Carolina lawmakers advance bills as session’s days dwindle
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina Republicans pressed legislation through the General Assembly on Wednesday, seeking to complete work on measures subject to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto before a self-imposed deadline this week as the two-year session dwindles.
House and Senate GOP leaders want to give final approval to as many statewide measures as possible by Friday, giving them the time to vote on overriding any bills Cooper vetoes before adjournment, likely by the end of the month.
In between, legislators say they want to consider local bills as well as proposed constitutional amendments on the November ballot, such as one requiring photo identification to vote. A House committee advanced Wednesday a Senate measure idling for a year that if approved by voters, would lower the state constitution’s cap on the income tax rate from 10 percent to 5.5 percent.
The full House gave initial approval on a wide-ranging agriculture bill that would place new protections upon the pork industry after a jury this spring ordered Smithfield Foods pay huge penalties to neighbors of hog farms for their odors and other nuisances. The measure, which needs one more House vote before likely negotiations with the Senate on the final details, also would prohibit beverages made from soy, almonds and plants from being marketed as “milk” on their cartons. A late change in the House, however, wouldn’t implement the mandate unless other Southeastern states agree to do the same.
House floor debate went until 11:30 p.m. on other legislation as both chambers debated and voted on scores of bills during the day and in a dozen committees.
The Senate voted 35-8 earlier in the day for already-negotiated “technical corrections” to the $23.9 billion budget adjustments that became law earlier this week when the legislature overrode Cooper’s veto on the spending plan.
The budget fix legislation locates $350,000 annually to continue a suicide prevention line through mid-2021 and $27 million to build new veterans’ homes in the Triangle and Triad region. It also changes a provision in the budget law that would have required the Highway Patrol to make new troopers pay up to $36,000 for their training if they leave the force within three years. Now that directive would be optional.
The technical corrections bill also edits language within the budget opponents otherwise fear could sink a Durham-Orange light-rail project. But the measure would still cap state funding toward the $2.4 billion construction price at $190 million, and require that commitments for federal and private funds be finalized by next year or the project will be removed from the state’s transportation’s blueprint.
The House agreed unanimously Wednesday night to toughen punishments on prisoners who expose themselves to a prison employee. Changes in the bill are designed to protect further prison employees following the violent deaths of five correctional officers or staff last year at two state prisons. Another bill the House approved addresses opioid abuse by allowing certain police investigators to access pharmacy information — with the scrutiny by state officials but not requiring a search warrant or court order — and to create new criminal penalties for a first responder who diverts controlled substances for personal use or sale. The content of both measures has yet to pass the Senate.
House members kept alive plans by the state Department of Transportation to allow alcohol sales on an upcoming passenger-only ferry from Hatteras to Ocracoke. An amendment to remove that authority failed Wednesday by a 56-57 vote.
Before going home for the evening, the Senate gave initial approval to legislation allowing nonprofit membership associations to offer health insurance that’s largely unregulated by the state and federal government.
North Carolina Farm Bureau and the NC Realtors back the measure, which they say will help farmers and real estate agents obtain affordable insurance. But opponents say these insurance groups could refuse to cover people with pre-existing conditions and weaken health insurance markets for subsidized policies created by the 2010 federal health insurance overhaul law.
Republicans used a parliamentary maneuver to block an up-or-down vote on a Democratic amendment requiring the pre-existing coverage. Still, four Democrats joined Republicans in backing the bill, which included an unrelated proposal designed to make it easier for psychologists from out of state come to work at North Carolina schools.