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Political notebook: Warren, McInnis haven’t read religion freedom bill

Controversy about a Religious Freedom Restoration Act made national news this week and shifted to North Carolina after two bills were introduced in both legislative bodies of the general assembly.

The North Carolina bills go by identical names and mirror a federal measure passed in 1993. The U.S. Supreme Court in 1997 ruled that the federal measure didn’t apply to local and state government, which prompted states to pass their own versions of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

In the N.C. House of Representatives, the bill has close to 20 sponsors and co-sponsors, including Rep. Carl Ford, R-76. In the Senate, eight legislators, including Sen. Andrew Brock, R-34, have signed on to sponsor or co-sponsor the measure. Critics of the measure said both bills contained language that created a potential for future discriminatory business practices. Proponents, such as Ford and Brock, said the bill’s intent was mischaracterized.

When asked for his stance on the North Carolina bill, Rep. Harry Warren, R-77, said he hasn’t extensively read it to be able to comment on its contents.

“At this point, it seems to me that the media is making more out of it than it really is,” Warren said. “It may be getting a lot of notoriety, but, from what I understand, it is based on a federal law from the 1990s and 20 something other states have passed a similar measure.”

Similar to Warren, Tom McInnis, R-25, said he’s been focused on other bills in the legislature and hasn’t had time to look at the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

“This country was founded on the principles of religious freedom,” McInnis said. “It’s why so many people came to America from Europe. I would hope that anything we do pass protects that right.”

Burr, Tillis criticize Iran nuclear agreement

The United States and five other world powers on Thursday announced the basis for a nuclear deal with Iran, but both of North Carolina’s senators aren’t happy with the results.

The deal aims to restrict Iran’s ability to produce a nuclear weapon. Among other things, the deal would keep the country’s nuclear facilities under production limits.

On the same day the deal was announced, Sen. Richard Burr, R-NC, released a statement questioning the deal.

“It’s unsettling that this agreement allows for key elements of Iran’s nuclear program to remain in place,” Burr said in the statement. “Congress needs to weigh in on any decision to soften sanctions on a country whose leader has recently said ‘death to America,’ while simultaneously requesting additional nuclear capability. This deal could lay the foundation for a nuclear arms race in the most unstable region in the world. America must remain vigilant, given Iran’s dubious track record and the fact that the framework requires that no nuclear facilities close.”

North Carolina’s freshman, Republican senator Thom Tillis, took to Twitter in a series of three tweets to criticize the deal.

“Iran regime has proven their word is worth only as much as the paper it’s written on, can’t be trusted to drop nuclear ambitions,” he said in a tweet. “The preliminary framework (with) Iran makes it clear that the Obama (administration) wanted to settle for any deal instead of an effective deal.”

McCrory announces decrease in workers compensation rate

On Wednesday, Gov. Pat McCrory announced in a news release that 95 percent of the state’s employers will see an average decrease in April of 3.4 percent in their 2015 workers compensation premium rate.

The remaining 5 percent, constitutes businesses purchasing coverage through an “assigned risk pool,” will see an average decrease of 4.5 percent, the release said.

The news release stated legislation passed in 2014 reducing the costs associated with the practice of physicians dispensing prescription drugs contributed to the declines.

“This is great news for North Carolina businesses across the state,” McCrory said. “Our reforms are having a positive impact on businesses and helping them decrease their operating costs – which in turn could lead to more money to hire new workers.”

Recent revisions to the Industrial Commission’s medical fee schedule rules will also take effect in April 2015 and are estimated to provide the state’s workers’ compensation system with $27 million in annual savings.

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.

 

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