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State legislature: At a glance

By The Associated Pressó House, Senate answer local officials’ calls, approve anti-gang bill
ó Schoolyard bully bill faces uncertain future
ó Citing money woes, House panel votes to oppose federal REAL ID plan
ó Easley aide: change to boat towing bill isn’t enough to change governor’s mind
ó Online ticket scalping tax provision removed; bill stalls in committee
ó Newspaper distributor exemption from solicitation bans gains final NC approval
THE BRIEF:GANG PLAN: An anti-gang plan backed by law enforcement officials and a host of mayors was overwhelmingly approved by the House and Senate. The measure, which now heads to Gov. Mike Easley’s desk for signature, would increase the punishments gang members would face. Under the plan, the penalties for many gang crimes would be increased for offenders who are 16 years or older. The bill also offers people convicted of a gang-related misdemeanor or felony when they were an under the age of 18 an opportunity to have the charge removed from their criminal record if they stay conviction-free for two years.
BULLYING BILL: Legislative leaders backed off votes on a final anti-bullying bill negotiated by the House and Senate as Christian conservatives lobbied hard against what they said would advance special protections for gay citizens in North Carolina. A handful of Senate Democrats haven’t been persuaded to support the bill, placing the legislation’s final approval in doubt before the Legislature adjourns for the year. The key issue in the bill is a list of the kinds of characteristics of a person that could be susceptible to bullying. The list includes sexual orientation. The Rev. Mark Creech with the Christian Action League of North Carolina said the bill may lead to school officials affirming gay behavior or turn gays and lesbians into a protected class of citizens. Bill supporters said the measure is just about protecting children from abuse and school violence.
REAL ID: Two House committees rebuffed the federal government’s plan to require states to make identification cards more secure. The panel approved a plan from Rep. Nelson Cole, D-Rockingham, calling for North Carolina officials to stop using state funds to implement the federal REAL ID Act. The 2005 law is designed to keep government identification cards out of the hands of illegal immigrants and terrorists by requiring more stringent security checks on issuers. Cole’s bill still allows the state to receive federal grants and other government funds to implement the program. Cole pushed for the plan because North Carolina would have to spend tens of millions of dollars over the next decade to comply because the federal government hasn’t sent the state any money. It still needs the approval of the full House and Senate.
BUDGET BILL: Lawmakers are still waiting for Gov. Mike Easley to act on the $21.4 billion state budget they sent him to one week ago. Easley has until midnight Friday to sign the bill into law or veto it. He can also let the bill become law without his signature. Rep. Mickey Michaux, D-Durham, senior co-chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, believes the budget signing has been delayed because Easley “has got a couple of other things that he wants.” In particular, Michaux said, Easley wants additional money for his Learn and Earn alternative high school initiative. Any changes or additional funds would have to go into other bills before the session ends.
TRAVELING BOATS: Gov. Mike Easley isn’t satisfied with a concession in a boat-towing bill that lawmakers hoped would discourage him from vetoing the measure. The Senate agreed Tuesday to amend a bill that would have allowed motorists to tow boats up to 10 feet wide both day and night without a permit. The amendment lowered the threshold for nighttime towing to 9 1/2 feet. Easley lobbyist Franklin Freeman said he didn’t think the change would cause the governor to sign a bill that gets to his desk. Freeman told legislators last week the governor may veto that measure.
SELLING PAPERS: A bill heading to Gov. Mike Easley’s desk would prevent local governments from passing or enforcing ordinances to prevent newspaper vendors from selling at street corners and in highway medians. The Senate voted 42-3 in favor of House changes to the measure. The measure would exempt media outlets that distribute their products from blanket solicitation bans by some municipalities. Roadside sales still couldn’t occur if they impeded traffic.
YADKIN RIVER: The Environmental Review Commission would be asked to study the impact continuing hydroelectric project on the Yadkin River would have on the region’s water quality and economy, under a plan approved by a House judiciary committee. The bill comes as Alcoa Power Generating seeks to renew its 50-year-old federal license for its Yadkin River facility. The commission would study the socio-economic effect of the plant, the river’s water demands, and the region’s clean water supply. The bill now heads to the full House.
TICKET SCALPING: The House Finance Committee met twice to revise and then approve a bill authorizing online ticket scalping. The panel met early Tuesday, where members approved an amendment from Rep. Paul Stam, R-Wake, which removed a provision which would have taxed ticket resellers’ profit. The move prompted lawmakers to question whether the bill was still eligible for consideration according to the General Assembly’s rules which dictate what proposals can be debated this session. So the panel met again Tuesday evening to add a provision which requires that venues who don’t want their tickets to be resold for profit to file a document with the secretary of state and pay a filing fee. The bill now heads to the House floor.
DROUGHT RESPONSE: The House gave its final approval to a plan to give North Carolina governors more power to reduce water use during droughts. The 92-20 vote ships the bill to the Senate, which must approve the plan before it can be sent to Gov. Mike Easley. The governor has urged lawmakers to give state officials more authority during water shortages to ensure local governments are reducing usage.
DRIVER’S LICENSES: A plan to allow the state Department of Transportation to print black-and-white photographs on driver’s licenses was approved by the House. Rep. Bill Faison, D-Orange, said the department wants to be able to print and engrave ID cards with the bearer’s image. The engraving process would make the licenses more difficult to counterfeit, but the technology is only available for non-color images, he said. The bill also would also allow the Division of Motor Vehicles to deliver state-issued ID cards to some post office boxes. Current state law prohibits cards from being mailed to nonresidential addresses.
TUESDAY’S SCORECARD:In the House:
ó S1967, to establish toll collection rules for the North Carolina Turnpike Authority. Approved 100-12. Next: Return to Senate for concurrence motion.
ó S1695, to allow 53foot tractor trailers on primary roadways and to increase the size of some farm equipment that can be driven on roads. Approved 101-10. Next: Return to Senate for concurrence motion.
ó S1797, to change criteria in seeking proposals for a statewide tire retread contract for school buses and Department of Transportation vehicles. Tentatively approved 110-0. Next: Fina House vote.
ó S2075, to increase the maximum liability for Job Development Investment Grants from $15 million to $25 million in the calendar year 2008. Tentatively approved 86-25. Next: Final House vote.
In committees:
ó H2623, to create a special office within the Commissioner of Banks to help homeowners with subprime mortgages facing foreclosure and to pay for outside mortgage counselors, as sought by Gov. Mike Easley. Favorable report, Senate Appropriations Committee. Next: To the full Senate.
AROUND THE STATEHOUSE:More than 40 GOP representatives sponsored a resolution calling on North Carolina’s congressional delegation to support a federal plan to empower the state to authorize offshore drilling. The resolution says that a federal moratorium on coastal drilling artificially limits oil supply and therefore helps raise the cost of gasoline. President Bush on Monday lifted an executive ban on offshore drilling, but a congressional moratorium is still in place.
ON THE AGENDA:The House holds its annual “brims and bows” day on Wednesday. Female legislators are encouraged to wear hats and men are asked to wear bow ties.
OVERHEARD:”My name is Joe. I am an alcoholic and I ask for your forgiveness and your prayers.” ó Rep. Joe Boylan, R-Moore, in a brief speech on the House floor. Boylan charged in April with driving while impaired after he drove his pickup truck off a road and hit a tree.
ó By Gary D. Robertson and Whitney Woodward

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