United States: North Carolina General Assembly Week In Review - March 13, 2015

Legislature Focuses on Economic Development, Gas Tax Amid Busy Week

The North Carolina General Assembly considered legislative measures this week on everything from eliminating the state gas tax to extending economic incentives to private companies. The House and Senate adjourned late Thursday afternoon and will return on Monday evening.

Economic Incentives Legislation

A House bill that would plow millions of dollars into economic development efforts doesn't seem poised to move quickly through the Senate. House Bill 117, the N.C. Competes Act, carries a number of measures favored by Gov. Pat McCrory, including changes to a program designed to lure big manufactures to the state that could issue $900 million in rebates over the next 15 years. The same bill would also expand tax breaks on electricity purchases for data centers and continues a tax break on jet fuel for airlines. The measure passed the House 88-29, with a bipartisan mix of lawmakers on both sides of the vote.

When the bill came to the Senate on Monday night, leaders sent it to the Rules Committee. A trip to Rules can sometime be an indication that a measure is on the fast track, but for other bills, the committee is a place to languish unheard. Rules Committee Chairman Tom Apodaca made clear this was not a fast-track sort of assignment. "We've had a discussion about what rank and file can accept in terms of an economic development bill, and, to say this bill pushes that limit is an understatement," said Apodaca, R-Henderson.

Read H117 here

Gas Tax Proposal

Tired of the gasoline tax? It would go away under a bill introduced this week by a Mecklenburg County lawmaker. But Rep. Charles Jeter, a Huntersville Republican, would replace it with an annual fee of $201. Motorists would pay the fee regardless of how many miles they drive. Jeter's bill H203, comes after the N.C. House and Senate passed different measures involving the state gas tax. It also comes amid a larger debate over paying for North Carolina's long-term transportation needs. The House this month passed a bill cutting the current 37.5 cents per gallon tax to 36 cents for the rest of 2015. A bill passed by the Senate would drop it to 35 cents.

The tax was scheduled to fall to 30 cents per gallon this summer, prompting Democrats to call the Republican measures tax increases. But Jeter says inevitable fluctuations in the price of gas as well as in fuel usage make the gas tax an unreliable source of revenue. He said his fee was determined by dividing the amount raised by the current tax with the number of vehicles registered.

Learn more about H203 here

Racial Profiling Bill

North Carolina House Democrats have filed a proposal for a state ban on racial profiling by law enforcement agencies. Racial profiling is already illegal under federal law as a violation of the 14th Amendment of the Constitution. The bill would add to state law a prohibition against "investigation, detention, or arrest based on the person's real or perceived race, ethnicity, national origin, disability, religion, sexual orientation, or gender identity, rather than on the person's behavior or on information identifying the person as having engaged in criminal activity." House Bill 193 would also give "citizen review boards" wide-ranging investigative powers to handle complaints of racial profiling and would have the power to discipline or even fire officers found to have engaged in the practice.

The proposal also requires law enforcement agencies to compile demographic data on murder investigations, traffic stops and use of deadly force by officers and to make that information publicly available. And it calls for additional training for law enforcement officers and neighborhood watch participants.

Read H193 here

Tougher DWI Bills

The N.C. House voted Monday night to toughen two state laws targeting repeat drunk drivers. Both bills were sponsored by Democratic Rep. Darren Jackson of Wake County, and they garnered support from both parties. Jackson pointed to 2013 statistics which showed that about one third of traffic fatalities in North Carolina involved drunken drivers. The first measure, House Bill 32 would lower the threshold for a habitual drunken driving charge. The current law applies to drivers charged four or more times within 10 years. If Jackson's bill becomes law, a driver would be charged with a habitual DWI on the third offense within 10 years. Habitual drunken driving is a felony that carries a minimum of one year in jail, and the sentence can't be suspended. Convicted drivers must also complete a substance abuse program while in jail or as a condition of parole. The bill passed in a 112-2 vote this week and now heads to the Senate.

Jackson's other proposal, House Bill 31 addresses restrictions on convicted drunken drivers with license restrictions-typically first offenders. The bill passed in a 110-4 vote and will go to the Senate.

Read H32 and H31

Property Insurance Reform

State lawmakers are aiming to lower property insurance rates by restructuring the state's plan to cover catastrophic loss. A bill unveiled Tuesday in both the House and the Senate would create a public bonding authority within the state's Coastal Property Insurance Pool. It would also require insurers to divulge detailed information on their costs and revenues, require them to use state-specific modeling to forecast risk for wind and other liabilities and require the consent-to-rate process to be based on "sound actuarial principles."

Supporters of the bill, including state Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin and the North Carolina Association of Realtors, say the changes will provide more transparency and more affordability for consumers. Sen. Harry Brown, R-Onslow, says the rapidly rising cost of homeowners insurance is "the No. 1 issue that we hear from our constituents," especially for retirees and senior citizens on fixed incomes.

Read H182 here

The Birds and the Bees Act

Three state senators are hoping their idea for the "birds and the bees act" will win support in the state legislature. That's the short title of a law proposed by Wesley Meredith, Brent Jackson and Tamara Barringer, all Republicans. Its subject matter isn't what you might think. The long title is more cumbersome and less titillating. It runs 34 words: "An act to clarify the authority of local governments to adopt ordinances related to bee hives and to require the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to study strategies for protecting and supporting pollinators." If passed, the bill would stop counties, cities and towns from adopting ordinances that prohibit anyone from owning or possessing five or fewer beehives.

Read S225 here

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