The House completed work on several remaining bills this week before adjourning for the year. Below is a quick snapshot of some of the bills that were approved by the House and/or the Senate in the last several days:
Meth Lab Prevention – One of the most important accomplishments of this year’s session is passage of the Meth Lab Prevention Act, which seeks to reduce the growing crime problem across our state. The House passed what was described as the most comprehensive anti-meth lab bill in the country on Tuesday, which was slightly different that a version previously approved by the Senate. When it became clear that the Senate would not return to vote on the House approved stronger bill, the House approved the Senate's rewrite of HB 248 on Wednesday in order to have an anti-meth law before next May. We hope to have a stronger measure, summarized below, approved next year.
The unanimously approved legislation would keep certain cold medicines containing pseudoephedrine and ephedrine, which are used in the illegal manufacturing of meth, behind a pharmacy counter. Gel caps and products intended for children under 12 would remain on shelves, although a state commission would have the power to restrict those items further. Consumers will need to show photo identification and sign a log before buying the medicine, and would be limited to no more than two products at once and three a month. The bill now awaits the Governor’s signature to become law.
Law-enforcement officials say that small, home labs for making meth have become more common in recent years. There were nine meth labs discovered in 1999, and 322 in 2004, according to the Attorney General’s office.
The House and Senate passed different versions of the legislation earlier in the session and have worked together over the last several weeks to reach a compromise.
The more comprehensive and stronger anti-meth bill which was passed by the House on Tuesday would have restricted the sale of all medicine containing pseudoephedrine by putting the medicine behind either a pharmacy counter or behind a single locked cabinet at a retail store if no pharmacy counter is present. The bill also required security measure such as video surveillance of sales areas or anti-theft devices on the medications. Individuals buying cold medicine would be required to register their name and address in a logbook and would not be permitted to buy more than 2 packages in one transaction and no more than 3 packages per month. In addition to the restrictions on purchases of cold medicine, the bill also included requirements for all wholesale distributors to report transactions involving pseudoephedrine products to the State Bureau of Investigation every month.
The legislation also would increase penalties on those arrested for meth production. Under the stronger bill, any person arrested for the manufacturing of meth or for possession of chemicals believed to be used for the production of meth can be denied bail if that person is dependent on the drug or has a pattern of meth use. This provision would assure the safety of the community by not allowing a known offender immediately back out on the street.
North Carolina’s meth problem has increased tremendously over the past few years, and legislators, the Governor, and Attorney General Roy Cooper have been working to battle the spread of secret drug labs that produce the dangerous drug. In 2004, 124 children were found living in meth labs in the state. Children in these homes are threatened by toxic chemicals, fire, and explosions, and are often neglected or abused. Thus far in 2005, more than 50 children have been removed from homes where meth was being made.
Military Support Act (SB 1117) – The Legislature gave final approval to the 2005 Military Support Act, which will help the careers of military spouses, the schooling of their children, and the morale of those left behind during deployments. The Senate voted unanimously in favor of changes made Monday night by the House to the 2005 Military Support Act. The measure now goes to Governor Easley for his signature. The bill would set aside $1 million apiece for conservation easement purchases around the installations and quality-of-life and morale programs for the military. The bill attempts to make college tuition less expensive for the dependents of retired military personnel by giving them the in-state rate. The legislation would also work to ease state licensing requirements for military spouses who have professional licenses issued in other states.
$150 Bonus for State Employees (HB 575) – The House overwhelmingly approved a bill on Monday night that would give a $150 bonus to state employees making less than $50,000 per year. This increase was suggested during the final budget discussions several weeks ago, but was not supported by Gov. Mike Easley and the Senate. The House voted 109-3 for the legislation; however, it will not be considered by the Senate until next May at the earliest.
Additional Anti-Crime Measures (SB 61) – The House approved legislation on Wednesday that seeks to strengthen the laws against impaired driving by increasing the punishment for felony death by vehicle and to expand the number of judges and assistant district attorneys in several jurisdictions. The measure also would allow a victim of a sexually violent offense or the victim’s family to obtain a civil no-contact order against a registered sex offender who resides or works within a quarter mile of the victim’s residence, school, place of employment, or other specific location.
Global Warming Study Commission (SB 1134) – The General Assembly gave its final approval to legislation that creates a legislative commission to study global warming’s impact on North Carolina. The House and Senate agreed to a compromise worked out that would create a 32-member commission. The panel could recommend a pollution-reducing goal when it reports to the General Assembly by November, 2006. The panel membership includes members of the public, representatives of the state’s top power companies, as well as industry and environmental groups and universities. The bill now goes to the Governor for his signature.
Local Vote for Additional Education Funding – The House passed a series of bills at the end of last week and on Monday night that would allow 45 counties across the state to hold a local referendum on increasing their sales tax by one-half percent to raise money for school construction. The ½ cent increase would only occur if voters approved the measure. The bills will not be approved during this year’s session due to the Senate’s refusal to take up the measures before adjourning.
If the Senate approves the bills next May, the following counties would be able to include a referendum on the ballot for public schools and community college construction: Alexander, Anson, Beaufort, Bladen, Buncombe, Camden, Carteret, Catawba, Chatham, Columbus, Craven, Cumberland, Currituck, Davidson, Davie, Duplin, Edgecombe, Granville, Guilford, Halifax, Jackson, Johnston, Jones, Lenoir, Martin, Mecklenburg, Montgomery, Nash, Pamlico, Pasquotank, Pender, Pitt, Richmond, Sampson, Stanly, Surry, Swain, Tyrrell, Union, Vance, Wake, and Wilson. Chatham, Franklin, Lee and Vance Counties would have a referendum for public school construction only, and Haywood County would have a referendum for community college construction only. The combined state and local sales tax is now 7 percent in all counties except Mecklenburg, which is 7.5 percent.
And Finally, House Adjournment- The House passed the joint resolution for adjournment on Wednesday afternoon and the Senate concurred during its session this morning. The resolution requires that the General Assembly return for the 2006 short session on Tuesday, May 9th.