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June 3 in the Legislature; Coates on maps

June 3, 2008, at the North Carolina General Assembly
By The Associated Press

ó House budget winds its way through committees before expected floor vote
ó Marriage license fee increase removed from NC House budget
ó Easley says House ěstiffing the teachers,î retreating on education
ó ěJessica Lunsford Actî clears NC Senate committee
ó NC would eliminate gift tax in bill clearing Senate

BUDGET AHEAD: The Houseís $21.3 billion budget proposal wound its way through the three committees necessary to bring it to the floor Wednesday afternoon for the first of two required votes. The bill spent the longest time in the full House Appropriations Committee, where members voted on more than 50 amendments before passage came shortly after 8:30 p.m. Tuesday. The approved additions include shifting more money to promote the High Point furniture market, increase foreclosure counseling and expand high-speed Internet service in rural areas. The Senate will create its own version of the budget bill. A compromise ultimately will be sent to Gov. Mike Easley’s desk for his signature.

MORE ěI DOî FEES NOT DUE: People getting married won’t have to pay an extra $10 get a license thanks to a budget amendment approved by the House Finance Committee. Instead, the $10 would be shifted to the fee for divorce court filings, which would now be $20 higher, or $75. The draft proposal would have raised both marriage licenses and divorce filings by $10 apiece, with proceeds going to support domestic violence prevention programs. But committee members, particularly Republicans, complained that the act of getting married shouldn’t be linked to marital conflict. The price of a marriage license will remain $50. But the divorce fee won’t generate as much money because there are more marriages than divorces.

HOUSING SEX OFFENDERS: The House Appropriations Committee approved a budget amendment that attempts to narrow where the Department of Correction can place released prisoners in temporary housing. An earlier draft of the bill would have allowed the agency to use money next year to help sex offenders live in shelters, group homes and hotels when released from prison. Department spokesman Keith Acree says it had been difficult for some registered sex offenders to find permanent housing when they are released on probation because there are many restrictions on where they can live. The amendment by Rep. Carolyn Justus, R-Henderson, directed the agency to stay clear of hotels, nursing homes and locations where children live.

UNHAPPY EASLEY: Gov. Mike Easley said the House budget is ěreally stiffing the teachersî and argued the House is retreating on education after what heís called the best budget effort ever on the subject a year ago. Speaking after the Council of State meeting, Easley told reporters he’s particularly concerned about the average 3 percent raise for public school teachers that House Democrats offered. The governor’s budget proposal sought nearly 7 percent, and Easley said without it he and legislative leaders are breaking a 2005 promise to get teacher salaries above the national average during the next school year.

JESSICA LUNSFORD ACT: A Senate judicial panel has backed a version of a House bill that would impose mandatory prison sentence on adults who commit certain sex-related crimes against children. The committee approved the bill named after Jessica Lunsford, a former Gaston County resident who was kidnapped and buried alive by a convicted sex offender in Florida in 2005. The plan would require adults who rape or certain other crimes against children to be sentenced to either 25 years in prison or life without parole. The House approved a version of the bill late last year. The measure now goes to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

GIFT TAX: People who give substantial monetary gifts to family and friends wonít be subject to additional taxes in a bill approved unanimously by the Senate. The bill would eliminate North Carolinaís gift tax. North Carolina is one of only four states that has such a tax. The bill sponsor, Sen. David Hoyle, D-Gaston, said it’s not logical that someone who gives away more than $12,000 must pay a tax, but the same person can leave an estate of $2 million that isnít taxed. Repealing the gift tax would cost the state $18 million annually. The bill now moves to the House.

CAMPUS SECURITY: A Senate judiciary panel approved a plan to give the University of North Carolina system $29 million to improve campus security. The money would help the school implement a number of safety measures aimed at preventing school shootings and improve communication during emergencies. Those recommendations were made by a special panel charged with studying security on North Carolina’s college campuses following the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting. The plan now heads to a Senate appropriations committee for consideration.

The North Carolina Forestry Association held its annual lobbying day on the same day that fees related to their industry were volleyed around during debate on the budget. In the morning, the House Finance Committee eliminated a provision that would have increased forest product assessments for timber processed at mills by 50 percent. The fees, which go into a fund to reimburse people who establish forests on their land, haven’t been raised in 30 years. During the afternoon Appropriations Committee, the panel agreed to an amendment that shifted $590,000 to the fund.

Several groups are holding lobbying events Wednesday at the Legislature. The North Carolina Watershed Alliance wants to prevent new coastal stormwater rules from being weakened this year by the General Assembly. The North Carolina League of Municipalities will host its annual Town Hall Day. And several groups supporting a one-year moratorium on involuntary annexation plan to hold a rally.

ěWe decided that we donít need a map every year. We don’t change it that much.î ó Rep. Lorene Coates, D-Rowan, co-chairwoman of a transportation subcommittee, pointing out a budget proposal that would order the Department of Transportation to produce the free state highway map every two years, instead of annually.
By Gary D. Robertson and Whitney Woodward.


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