Pricey Harrison

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Global Warming Panel Approved By NC Senate

A study commission would examine the potential damage of global warming upon North Carolina in a bill that passed the Senate on Wednesday. The 30-member Legislative Commission on Global Climate Change would recommend whether the state should reduce pollution that researchers argue contributes to a warmer overall climate. The panel also could hire consultants to help with their work. A growing number of scientists believe that global warming is more than a theory, and that greenhouse gas emissions such as carbon dioxide - generated by cars and power plants - trap energy in the atmosphere.

The resulting rise in temperatures, scientists argue, could lead to higher ocean levels, more intense storms and shifting climate zones, potentially making farmlands drier and deserts wetter. Some scientists argue that could harm the Outer Banks and inland estuaries as ocean levels rise and storms become more common.

Opponents of the bill have said the science on the issue remains questionable, but leaders in the Senate spoke in favor of forming the study commission.

I have sponsored several bills dealing with global warming. House Bill 1600 would require state agencies to plan and report on climate change related activities. Other bills would promote clean energy and clean air, including House Bill 1511 which would require that 10% of the energy used in North Carolina be from renewable sources and House Bill 1460 that would require the sale of cleaner cars in North Carolina, as many other states have done.
I hope you will continue to let me know how you feel about the issues we are debating.

House Holds Session In Edenton

On Wednesday, nearly 100 House members attended a special session 140 miles east of Raleigh at the Chowan County Courthouse in Edenton. They traveled there to commemorate the town's significance to the state, holding the session a stone's throw from where their colonial counterparts met nearly three centuries ago. The town took the lawmakers back in time. Two teens bearing muskets dressed as sentries, and a town crier in full regalia rang the bell to bring lawmakers into the nation's oldest operating courthouse, where they squeezed into most of the available space.

Edenton is the hometown of House Rules Committee Chairman Bill Culpepper, D-Chowan, who has wanted to hold session in the historic town for almost a decade. The session took up several non-controversial items, all approved by voice votes. Lawmakers approved a resolution honoring Edenton's significance to the state and gave final approval to a bill to make the Venus flytrap the state's official carnivorous plant and the fraser fir as the state's official Christmas tree. House members returned to Raleigh late Wednesday and met in their normal surroundings on Thursday.

Protecting The Health of School Children

House Bill 1502, the School Children's Health Act, which I co-sponsored, passed the House unanimously on Wednesday. The bill, which is sponsored by Representatives Grier Martin, (D-Wake), Marian McLawhorn (D-Pitt), and Marvin Lucas (D-Cumberland), would require state government to take action to protect the health of school-age children from environmental hazards on public school campuses. House Bill 1502 establishes guidelines and recommendations for the use of arsenic-treated wood, pesticides and elemental mercury in public schools. In addition, the legislation makes recommendations to address asthma-causing diesel exhaust and allergy-aggravating mold and mildew.

Because children's bodies are still developing, exposure to toxics can have serious impact on their long-term health. School-age children are particularly vulnerable to these toxins due to the large percentage of their time spent at school - between 30 and 50 percent of each day that school is in session. Diesel exhaust, mercury, pesticides, arsenic-treated wood and mold and mildew have been identified as substances having negative impact on the health of school children that can be eradicated both inexpensively and easily.

* Diesel exhaust contributes to childhood asthma and has been found to increase the risk of lung and heart disease.
* Mercury interferes with brain development and can lead to developmental problems such as impaired memory and learning disabilities.
* Pesticides, arsenic treated wood, and mold and mildew pose serious threats to children's health, and are commonly found in North Carolina's public schools

Many school districts in North Carolina and across the United States have already put such policies and practices into effect. For example, Integrated Pest Management (IPM) policies have been adopted in several North Carolina school districts.

Reducing Smoking In Restaurants

A House Judiciary Committee unanimously passed legislation to reduce smoking in restaurants. The bill, which originally proposed to totally banned smoking in restaurants, is a compromise supported by the N.C. Restaurant Association. The new bill requires that by 2007, all smoking areas in restaurants must be separate and apart from the main dining area and, by 2008, restaurants would not be allowed to have minors working in smoking sections unless the minor's parent or guardian provides written permission.

The bill is a compromise that meets the objectives of bill sponsors and health advocates. Smoking areas that are separate and apart from the main dining room allow non-smokers to not be subjected to second-hand smoke while allowing restaurants to continue to make a choice about whether or not they want to provide a smoking section. This bill will also protect the health of minors working in these establishments.

An estimated 75% of North Carolinians are non-smokers. This bill will give them the right to choose whether or not they wish to be exposed to second-hand smoke. The bill now goes to the House floor for consideration and I am optimistic about its passage.

Protecting Against Identity Theft -05-31-05

A rewrite of the state's laws related to the collection and use of Social Security numbers and other private information has unanimously passed the House. The Identity Theft Protection Act of 2005, House Bill 1248, is sponsored by Representatives Bruce Goforth (D-Buncombe), Ronnie Sutton (D-Robeson), Minority Leader Joe Kiser (R-Lincoln), and Karen Ray (R-Iredell) and co-sponsored by more than 30 members, including me, from across the state.

The bill would restrict the sale and display of Social Security numbers by certain businesses. And personal information collected properly would have to be destroyed properly. The legislation also would give consumers the right to place a security "freeze" on their credit reports. Business customers who may be at risk of identity theft due to a security breach would have to be alerted by the company. The Senate has passed a slightly different version of the bill, but lawmakers in both chambers hope to give final approval to one of the identity theft bills in the near future.

What to do if you're a victim of identity theft:
* Contact the fraud department of one of the credit bureaus such as Equifax, Experian and TransUnion to place your fraud alert on file.
* Call your creditor to close the accounts you believe have been tampered with or opened fraudulently. Use the ID Theft Affidavit when disputing new unauthorized accounts.
* Notify police. Get a copy of the report to submit to your creditors and others that may require proof of the crime.
* File a complaint online with the Federal Trade Commission at http://www.consumer.gov/idtheft/. The FTC maintains a database of identity theft cases used by law enforcement agencies for investigations.

Source: The Federal Trade Commission

Budget Update 05-31-05

Members of the House Appropriations Committee continued working last week on their budget proposal. The House will continue to work and debate its spending plan in the coming weeks, with final passage expected during the second or third week of June. Legislators hope to be able to work out the differences between the House and Senate budgets prior to July 1 when the new fiscal year begins.

Numerous criticisms of the Senate budget, which was passed several weeks ago, have caused House members to search for ways to correct their harmful cuts to Medicaid, crime control programs, including drug courts, and other vital programs. In addition, the House has expressed concern over the Senate's action to make the temporary sales tax increase permanent and reduce taxes for the state's most wealthy individuals and corporations. House budget writers have said that many changes will be made in coming weeks as the House prepares its spending plan.

The Senate reduced the growth of Medicaid - the government health program for low-income children, elderly, and the disabled - by $127 million more than Governor Easley recommended in his budget proposal. Other details of state spending preferred by House members include setting aside about $40 million more than the Senate for state employee salary increases.

House budget-writers also now project the state will collect an additional $450 million in revenue, which will reduce the budget shortfall to approximately $1 billion.

I remain committed to adequately funding education, health and human services, transportation, public safety, the environment, and efforts to further strengthen our economy and create jobs.

Greetings From Raleigh 5-31-05

The holiday weekend interrupted our blog and newsletter schedule, so I hope this will "catch us up" on bills and issues under consideration at the present time. Our "crossover" deadline on June 2 will narrow our work to bills that have passed the House or the Senate or that have revenue or spending requirements. House Appropriations and Finance Committee members are working toward adopting a budget by mid June so final budget passage can occur by July 1.

Cheers,

Pricey

Friday, May 20, 2005

Senate Backs Creation Of New Small Business Fund

Money would be set aside from Gov. Mike Easley's economic incentives fund to assist small businesses with federal grant applications or to provide matching funds in a bill recommended Wednesday by a Senate committee. The measure would allow state officials to divert money from the One North Carolina Fund toward a new One North Carolina Small Business Fund. The One North Carolina Fund has been used by the governor to enhance corporate packages designed to encourage out-of-state companies to create jobs in the state.

Under the legislation, small businesses looking to expand with a new product or service could receive up to $3,000 from the new fund to offset half the costs of filing a grant proposal seeking federal funds for small business research or technology development. State funds also could be used for up to $100,000 in matching funds for businesses that win these grants. The proposal would extend the life of the state's Job Development Investment Grant program through 2007. Companies using the JDIG program are given back a portion of state withholding taxes generated by jobs they have created. A state panel would determine which firms receive the incentive.

North Carolina'sLegislation On Federal Land Use

Opponents of a proposed Navy aircraft practice landing field in Beaufort and Washington counties are pleased that the General Assembly has given final approval to a bill they believe could make it harder for the military to build on the site. The Senate voted 45-3 in favor of legislation that likely would require the federal government to consult with state lawmakers before it buys more than 25 acres of land in North Carolina. The bill passed the House several weeks ago and now goes to Governor Mike Easley for signature. The measure would alter a 98-year-old law that gives the federal government exclusive authority over land it buys. Bill sponsors have said it will not block the Navy from using the North Carolina site, but would force the federal government to sit down with the state and negotiate over land acquisitions. More than 30,000 acres at the proposed outlying landing field have yet to be acquired by the military.

Instructing Students About "Safe Surrender" Law

The House passed legislation on Tuesday, which would require local boards of education to ensure that students in grades eight through twelve receive instruction or information annually about the manner in which a parent may lawfully abandon a newborn baby with a responsible person. Reps. Phil Haire, (D-Jackson), Susan Fisher, (D-Buncombe), and Carolyn Justice, (R-Pender), sponsored House Bill 683.

The Infant Homicide Prevention Act, or Safe Surrender, was passed by state legislators in 2001 and allows for a mother to abandon her child with a responsible adult without being questioned or prosecuted. A recent incident in Cumberland County, where a young mother turned over her healthy, newborn baby to a law enforcement official, has illustrated that the "Safe Surrender" law can work.

Election Bills:Instant Runoff;Training For Campaign Treasurers

Up to 10 counties would have the option of trying an "instant runoff" in upcoming primary elections to avoid the expense and time of a separate second vote under legislation I co-sponsored, which was approved Wednesday by the House. Also, preliminary approval was given to a bill that would require campaign treasurers to attend training provided by the State Board of Elections, and would make other small changes to state campaign finance laws.

* Under the instant runoff bill, approved 79-32 and sent to the Senate, counties chosen by the board could try the process in local elections this year and next. Voters would rank their order of preference among the candidates listed and election officials initially would tally only the first choices. If the leading candidate fails to win more than 40 percent of the first-choice votes, the top two candidates would advance to the runoff. In the runoff, election officials would examine the ballots of voters whose first-choice candidate was eliminated and check how many times each of the remaining two candidates was the highest-ranked alternative choice. These totals would then be added to the original totals for the top two candidates, and the person with the most votes would be declared the winner. Supporters said the process would reduce the cost of a separate runoff, which on a statewide level can be millions of dollars but can draw very little interest. The pilot program that would be created could be recommended for wider use in 2007.

* Yesterday the House passed HB 1128 to improve campaign finance laws. It was requested by the State Elections Board and came, in part, as a result of the conviction of Agriculture Commissioner Meg Scott Phipps and her campaign treasurer, Linda Saunders, on election fraud and extortion charges. According to the bill's sponsor, Rep. Deborah Ross, (D-Wake), it also reflected concern over an audit of campaign finance reports from the 2002 election. The audit of 85 percent of the reports found that, of those audited, 80 percent had errors, some of which rose to misdemeanor status.

Raising The Minimum Wage

A bill, introduced by Rep. Alma Adams, (D-Guilford), which would raise the state's minimum wage from $5.15 per hour to a "living wage" of $8.50 per hour by 2007 was discussed in the House Commerce Committee, but no vote was taken. Advocates for the issue spoke in favor of the bill, telling committee members that some people are working multiple jobs to support their families. Several lawmakers offered support for an increase in the minimum wage, but suggested lengthening the "phase-in" period of such an increase.

Increasing Penalty For Passing A Stopped School Bus

House members passed legislation on Thursday that would make passing a stopped school bus a higher-level misdemeanor with upward of 120 days jail time or community service. House Bill 1400, which is sponsored by Rep. Dale Folwell, R-Forsyth, would make passing a stopped bus and causing injury a Class 1 felony carrying up to 10 months in jail or four months community service. The bill also would remove a provision that requires that the words "School Bus" on the back of buses be at least 8 inches high. He said that in some cases, defense lawyers have been able to get charges against clients dismissed because letters on a bus were one-quarter inch shorter than the statute required.

Public records show that since 1997 at least 1,600 people per year have been reported for passing stopped school buses. Representative Folwell has experienced this tragedy. His seven-year-old son died six years ago while trying to board a school bus.

Cell Phone Ban While Driving

Motorists would be restricted in using hand-held cell phones in a bill that cleared a House committee on Wednesday. The House Public Utilities Committee did not endorse or reject the bill, but sent it to a judiciary panel for further consideration. The bill sponsor, Rep. Mary McAllister, (D-Cumberland), argued that too many drivers are being distracted while talking on their portable phones. Her proposal would not prevent people from making calls if they use earpieces or other hands-free phones and devices.

Budget Update 05-20-05

Members of the House Appropriations Committee continued working this week on their budget proposal following passage of the Senate's budget two weeks ago and expect to pass a House budget by June 9. Our goal is to work out the differences between the House and Senate budgets prior to July 1 when the new fiscal year begins.

House Appropriations Subcommittees have been encouraged to draw up a budget that takes a different look at state spending allocations than those in the Senate proposal. House Speaker Jim Black has suggested spending targets and is encouraging members to spend less than the Senate budget, in order to minimize the need for new revenue. Many difficult choices lie ahead, but I remain committed to adequately funding education, health and human services, transportation, public safety, the environment and efforts to further strengthen our economy and create jobs.

Update On Two Of My Bills

* House Bill 1328, "Pardon/Expunction of Record"
Yesterday the House unanimously passed HB 1328, which would provide for the expunction of records for someone who has been granted a pardon of innocence. I learned from Darryl Hunt that, despite the fact that he had been exonerated from his conviction, and had received a pardon of innocence from Governor Easley, he still carried a first degree murder conviction on his record. After doing some research, I learned that there is no automatic opportunity to clear one's record once granted a pardon of innocence. Only a handful of pardons of innocence have been granted over the past two decades, and the standards for qualifying are quite high. Other pardons are also available (conditional pardon and unconditional pardon), and more frequently granted.

* House Bill 1295, "New Motor Vehicles Warranties"
The Committee on Judiciary 1 discussed my lemon law bill (HB 1295) yesterday. The bill is meant to make the lemon law more consumer friendly by encouraging car manufacturers to settle claims more quickly. Current law requires the owner of a lemon to continue to pay the manufacturer for the privilege of driving the car, which has been determined to be a lemon, while negotiations for a settlement take place. This can sometime take months, and many can't afford to buy another car while negotiating with the manufacturer.

Greetings From Raleigh 5-20-05

The new "crossover" deadline for passing legislation from one chamber to the other is June 2. It previously was May 19 and was extended to accommodate the unusually large number of bills introduced during this session. What this means is, to remain eligible for future consideration, any bill that does not have a fee/tax or appropriation attached to it has to be passed by the chamber in which it was introduced by June 2.

Cheers,
Pricey

Friday, May 13, 2005

Update On Bills 05-13-05

Several weeks ago, I listed and discussed bills that I had introduced and today I provide an update of those more recently introduced and/or signed as a primary sponsor:

HB 1569, "Oyster Restoration & Protection Act" would enhance the infrastructure that supports oyster restoration activities, protect and restore water quality and habitat in prime oyster growing areas, appropriate funds to help support projects to rehabilitate oyster habitats and sanctuaries, appropriate funds to plan for the development of oyster hatcheries at each of the three North Carolina aquariums and develop public education programs regarding those oyster hatcheries. This is one of the first steps in implementing the Coastal Habitat Protection Plan (CHPP), part of the Marine Fisheries Reform Act of 1997, meant to protect and enhance the health of our fisheries, including coastal habitat.

HB 1600, "Climate Change/State Agency Reports/Funds" would direct state agencies to evaluate and report annually on their activities and research related to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, would direct the state energy office to prepare an annual assessment of the state's activities related to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change and would appropriate funds to implement the program. This bill was covered in a USA Today article earlier in the week reporting on North Carolina's efforts at global warming.

HB 1641, "NC Farmland Preservation Committee Funds" would appropriate funds to create and implement the North Carolina Farmland Preservation Trust Fund Advisory Committee.

HB 1682, "Alternative Fuel Credits/Energy Credits Program", the purpose of which is to gain energy independence and improve air quality by establishing goals for alternative fuel and advanced technology vehicle use by motor vehicles in the state fleet and by establishing a banking and selling program for credits issued under the Federal Energy Policy Act. The program would generate funds to be used toward the purchase of alternative fuels and alternative fueled vehicles and for infrastructure development by state departments, institutions, and agencies.

HB 1683, "Raise CAMA Fees", would authorize an increase in application fees for Coastal Area Management Act (CAMA) permits from $400 to $1,000. This is meant to make the coastal management program more self sufficient, especially in this time of serious budget deficits.

HB 1688, "State Energy Office Funds", would appropriate funds to the State Energy Office to match federal grants for renewable energy and energy efficiency projects. Several important projects in the Guilford County area have been funded through the State Energy Office. Representative Alma Adams is a co-sponsor with me.

HB 1716, "Lead Hazard Reduction Tax Credit" would establish a tax incentive for residential lead hazard reduction and make conforming and technical changes. The tax credit would be against franchise or income tax for expenditures used for residential lead remediation. The credit amount would be the lesser of $1500 per dwelling unit or the application percentage of expenditures used for remediation (30% for owner-occupied residences and 20% for rental residences). The taxpayer would obtain credit by applying in the year after expenditures are made. The new lead remediation credit would be effective for tax years beginning on and after January 1, 2005.

HB 1722, "Wildlife Conservation - Present Use Value", would extend present-use value tax status to lands managed for wildlife conservation and make other changes regarding present-use value. It amends current statutes to provide that a tract of 20 or more acres of wildlife land is eligible for property tax appraisal at its present-use value, extends to bargain-sale conservation easement property an exception from certain use value requirements that currently applies to donated conservation easement property, and extends to bargain-sale property certain exceptions from the deferred taxes requirement that currently apply to donated property.

The proposal would enact a new statute to state the purpose of present-use value program, amend the program to increase from three years to five years the period that deferred taxes remain a lien on use value property, and become immediately payable when the property no longer qualifies for use value taxation. Another amendment would exempt from taxation real property held for conservation purposes in perpetuity (as well as for educational or scientific purposes) and adds new language exempting from taxation real property owned by a nonprofit entity, and meeting at least one of these conditions: held for purpose of transferring to state or federal conservation agency, held under written long-term management plan to promote conservation, subject to permanent conservation easement, or accessible to public for recreational purposes. This bill is meant to provide more incentives for land conservation.

HB 1766, "Alternative Fuel Vehicle Tax Credit" would create a tax credit for the purchase or lease of alternative fuel vehicles to help reduce dependence on imported petroleum and improve air quality.


Finally, I list three local funding bills introduced by Rep. Maggie Jeffus that I signed as a primary sponsor:

HB 1648, "Greensboro Symphony Society Funds", which requests funding in the amount of $50,000 for the 2005-06 fiscal year to support the orchestra's Second Annual Gospel Concert and education programs.

HB 1651, "Natural Science Center Funds", which requests funding in the amount of $800,000 for the 2005-06 fiscal year to assist the museum with Phase II of Animal Discovery.

HB 1666, "Triad Stage Funds", which requests funding in the amount of $75,000 for the 2005-06 fiscal year and $75,000 for the 2006-07 fiscal year to be used for operating expenses and to support a regional scene shop open to nonprofit arts organizations in the Triad.

Groups Who Met With Legislators This Week

* NASCAR officials, including founder, Bill France, and other stock car racing legends visited the General Assembly on tourism promotion day. The House and Senate passed a resolution paying respect to people in the motorsports industry, noting that it brings in $5.1 billion a year. Governor Easley participated in the event.

* Several hundred people rallied at the General Assembly in support of a proposed constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages. Conservative Christian speakers and lawmakers spoke at the two-hour event. They urged legislative leaders to allow referendum bills to be heard in the House and Senate. House and Senate leaders have said that the 1996 law passed by the General Assembly, which defines marriage between a man and a woman and thus bans same-sex marriages and does not recognize any such marriage performed in other states, is strong enough and no additional action is needed.

* A group called "Stop NC Annexation" visited members to lobby for a change in annexation laws. They want to be able to petition municipalities and have their views heard and considered with regard to deciding whether a specific annexation should occur. Several bills that would affect annexation laws are in committees awaiting debate.

* The League of Municipalities observed its Town Hall Day at the legislature and visited legislators to discuss issues of interest and to emphasize the need for $7 billion in new funding over the next five years for public water, sewer, and storm water infrastructure.

* Members of the State Employees Association (SEANC) visited legislators' offices this week to discuss their concerns with regard to salary and health insurance matters.

Bill To Expunge Criminal Record Progresses

House Bill 1328, "Pardon/Expunction of Record", which I introduced on April 19, was reported favorably out of the House Judiciary I Committee yesterday and now goes to the full House for consideration. The fact that criminal records are not routinely expunged when a person is granted a pardon of innocence was illustrated by the Darryl Hunt case and was the impetus for this bill. It would clear the record of individuals who have been wrongfully charged and convicted of a crime.

Contested Election Committee Named

House Speaker Jim Black and Senate President Pro Tem Marc Basnight on Tuesday chose a 10-member panel led by Representative Deborah Ross, (D-Wake) and Senator Dan Clodfelter (D-Mecklenburg) to begin work settling the undecided election for North Carolina's Superintendent of Public Instruction. The Joint Select Committee on Council of State Contested Election Committee, comprised of six Democrats and four Republicans, will make recommendations to legislators as required by the state constitution to resolve the race through a "joint ballot of both houses".

The General Assembly approved a law earlier this year, laying out the procedures by which a disputed statewide election can be resolved, and, earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Justice concluded its review of the new law, allowing it to be applied to 2004 election results.

Democrat June Atkinson leads Republican Bill Fletcher by 8,535 votes in the schools superintendent race from more than 3.3 million ballots cast. Atkinson requested that the panel be formed to resolve the disputed election and Fletcher was allowed ten days to respond to her request. A 45-day period is allowed for providing evidence to the committee. The legality of more than 11,000 out-of-precinct provisional ballots cast on Election Day is in question.

Other House appointees are Reps. Joe Hackney, D-Orange; Carolyn Justice, R-Pender; Mickey Michaux, D-Durham; and Bonner Stiller, R-Brunswick. The remaining Senate appointees include Sens. Austin Allran, R-Catawba; Fletcher Hartsell, R-Cabarrus; Vernon Malone, D-Wake; and R.C. Soles, D-Columbus.

Budget Update 05-13-05

Members of the House Appropriations Committee got to work on the House budget proposal following last week's passage of the Senate budget and we hope to work out the differences between the budgets prior to July 1 when the new fiscal year begins.

Many difficult choices lie ahead and I remain committed to adequately funding education, health and human services, environmental initiatives, transportation, public safety and efforts to further strengthen our economy and create jobs.

Greetings From Raleigh 5-13-05

On Wednesday we saw the final day for introducing substantive bills during this session. One hundred, twenty House members filed 1,781 bills and fifty Senate members filed 1,175 for a total of 2,956. Gerry Cohen, Director of the Bill Drafting Division, said that the number of requests for bill drafts increased more than thirty percent over the 2003 session. The focus now turns to debating and passing those bills that have sufficient support, in addition to compromising the House and Senate versions of the budget.

Please feel free to comment on these issues or others that concern you.

Cheers,

Pricey

Friday, May 06, 2005

BLOG

I have been convinced to start a BLOG. As you know, Greensboro is the home of some of the best blogs in the state. While I can't compete with the likes of Ed Cone, I am going to try to post timely commentary on activities at the General Assembly. Jayson Ovittore is helping me get started and is posting my newsletters for me, until I become more adept at this.

Specialty Beer

I am a co-sponsor of a bill the House approved, 68-46, on Wednesday and sent to the Senate to raise the maximum alcohol content of beer that could be sold in North Carolina. Currently, North Carolina is one of only six states in the nation, which has such a low alcohol content requirement. Microbreweries and beer aficionados across the state have lobbied for the proposal, which would allow beers above the current 6 percent alcohol limit to be brewed or sold commercially in the state and could create thousands of new jobs in the specialized industry. Beer labels would have to clearly show alcohol content if it is over 6 percent.

Proponents say it would expand the number of specialty brews that could be sold here, while opponents said it would offer a stronger, more problematic option for some drinkers. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) remained neutral on the bill, which garnered bi-partisan support in the House.

Paper Trail For Ballots

A group of citizens, technology experts and lawmakers lobbied on behalf of legislation to require paper records from all voting machines used in North Carolina. Bills before House and Senate committees would require the backup paper ballots, allow elections officials to review source coding on electronic voting systems, and take other steps to guarantee that all votes are accurately counted. The proposals arose after problems with voting across the state last fall led to delayed results in a number of races, including the still-unresolved race for state superintendent of public instruction. Members of the N.C. Coalition for Verified Voting urged lawmakers to pass the bills, saying the technology of electronic voting is still developing and not yet reliable enough to eliminate some sort of fallback record-keeping. Rep. Verla Insko (D-Orange) said she believes chances for passage of the House bill she sponsored and I co-sponsored are good. Our Board of Elections has some problems with the bill, but I hope we can come up with a system where voters have confidence that their votes were counted without imposing too much of a burden on county boards of election across the state.

On a separate election law matter, our Election Law Committee considered a bill that would eliminate runoffs, meaning there would be only one primary. I am interested in hearing from you on how you feel about that.

Death Penalty Temporary Halt

Forty senior members of the clergy from churches across North Carolina released a letter Tuesday calling for a two-year temporary halt on executions in order to study whether the death penalty is fairly meted out. The group, which included high-ranking Baptist, Roman Catholic, Church of Christ, Presbyterian, Muslim, Jewish, and other clergy, urged support of a bill currently before a state House committee. The legislation would, upon passage, call for an immediate suspension of executions for two years while lawmakers examine the use of capital punishment in the state.
In 2003, the state Senate approved a two-year halt in executions, but the House did not vote on the proposal.

Improving Access to Quality Health Care

Representatives Hugh Holliman (D-Davidson) and Verla Insko (D-Orange) have introduced House Bill 1535 which would establish a nonprofit called the North Carolina Health Insurance Risk Pool to meet the needs of individuals who cannot obtain health insurance because of high-risk health conditions and very high premiums. I have signed on as a co-sponsor along with Rep. Lucy Allen (D-Franklin) and Rep. Melanie Goodwin (D-Richmond). The bill would also provide a tax credit to insurers paying assessments to the North Carolina Health Insurance Risk Pool. It is scheduled to be heard in the House Insurance Committee on Thursday.

Climate Change and Global Warming

On Tuesday, I introduced House Bill 1600, "Climate Change/Global Warming", that would order certain state agencies and departments to make annual reports on their plans for coping with the impact of global warming on North Carolina. Primary sponsors with me are Rep. Susan Fisher (D-Buncombe), Rep. Phillip Haire (D-Haywood), and Rep. Alice Underhill (D-Craven). I introduced the bill because scientists around the world are concerned and studies indicate that the effects of greenhouse gases could bring a pronounced rise in temperatures, drier summers and warmer winters, rising sea levels, and increasing extreme weather events over the next century. The bill would require annual planning reports from state departments and divisions that would have to cope with such changes. Twenty-seven other states - including Kentucky, Tennessee and Alabama in the Southeast - have some form of such plans.

Greetings From Raleigh 5-06-05

To summarize where we are on the budget, the Senate has passed and sent to the House its $16.95 billion budget proposal for the fiscal year that begins on July l. The House will recommend its own spending plan in upcoming weeks. Then a committee of House and Senate members will compromise on the differences and arrive at a budget that both the Senate and House can accept. This process will be followed by Governor Easley's signing of the bill before it becomes law.

Following are important points about the Senate budget:

* The Senate budget contains many substantive items such as the lottery, a change in the authority of the UNC Board of Governors to set tuition rates, control over the Horace Williams Airport by UNC-Chapel Hill, prescribing how much time teachers should spend preparing students for some standardized tests, eliminating two administrative positions responsible for environmental compliance within the N.C. Department of Transportation, a ban on video poker, etc. As I have mentioned before, regardless of your opinion on such matters, it is not good public policy to place such items in the budget, where the merits of each cannot be debated. It is anticipated that the House will consider and vote on each of these proposals separately.

* Second, the Senate budget reduced the growth rate of Medicaid, the government health insurance program for poor children, the elderly, and the disabled, beyond that sought by Governor Easley. The Senate plan would cut 65,000 aged, blind, and disabled people from Medicaid rolls, but would allow most to retain hospital and prescription drug coverage under Medicare. If this plan were adopted, 8,000 people would lose prescription drug coverage and would periodically lose hospital coverage. The House will carefully evaluate the effect this change could have if implemented.

* Third, the House likely will continue efforts to improve the state's economy and create jobs, rather than agreeing with the Senate proposal to cut taxes for the state's wealthiest individuals. One such cost-effective example is to provide a tax credit to small business owners who provide health insurance to their employees. This credit would help the business entrepreneurs and could provide access to adequate health care for thousands of workers in our state.

* North Carolina continues to be ranked as one of the best places in the nation to do business. When all state and local taxes are considered, North Carolina's overall tax burden is low. In fact, a recent report by Ernst & Young found that North Carolina's business tax burden ranks among the lowest in the nation, and the North Carolina Progress Board ranks our overall tax burden as the eleventh lowest in the country.

For those who want more details on the Senate budget proposal, I refer you to the General Assembly's home page - http://www.ncleg.net/homePage.pl - where you will find the 4th Edition of the Senate Appropriations Bill (SB622) and the 4th Edition of the Appropriations Committee Report.

Please feel free to comment on any information I have provided on the budget. The House will begin a detailed review next week.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Greetings From Raleigh 5-03-05

We have breaking news from the legislature today which you all might find of interest.

Senate Democrats appear to have come to a consensus on a state budget bill that will include a lottery, increase the tax on cigarettes by 35 cents a pack, and add more spending for schools and health care needs, with the added revenue generated by the tobacco tax.

As predicted in last week's newsletter and post, the proposed budget bill also reduces the corporate income tax rate from 6.9 percent to 6.4 percent and the temporary income tax surcharge on the wealthy will be eliminated.

Senate Appropriations will consider the bill this afternoon. After that, it will go to Senate Finance and from there to the Senate floor, for a vote possibly later this week.

We have also just received word that the Department of Justice has okayed the procedure which the legislature adopted earlier this year which would settle contested elections. This clears the way for the General Assembly to decide on the school superintendent's race between June Atkinson and Bill Fletcher.

As always, please be in touch on matters of concern to you.

Cheers,

Pricey