May 14, 2011
NCGA Week In Review, May 14
Exploring Energy Options
SB 709, Energy Jobs Act, made it through the Senate Tuesday with a 38-12 vote and has been referred to the House Committee on Public Utilities. This measure would help North Carolina cash in on energy royalties by exploring offshore energy resources and shale gas, and help create thousands of long-term jobs. The bill would require reports by the state environmental regulators next year on the commercial potential of underground gas deposits in the central part of NC via fracking.
This act also encourages Gov. Perdue to team up with neighboring states SC and VA to increase the states' ability to collect royalties from companies pay for the right to explore other parcels of land and ocean now and drill later.
Senate Budget Talks
Senate Appropriations subcommittees started meeting this week to write their own version of the budget. President Pro Tem Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, said the Senate plans on spending $40 million less than the House on public education - $626 million less than Gov. Perdue proposed. Sen. Berger expects the Senate to pass their version of the budget by early June. With the Senate reducing the education budget even more than the House, a stalemate between the legislature and the governor seems imminent.
The House debated H 658, Change Early Voting Period, for over an hour yesterday. It narrowly passed the second reading with a 61-53 vote. The bill would shorten the "no-excuse, early voting" period in North Carolina elections from 17 days to 10 (this policy began in 2000). North Carolina is one of 32 states that offer early voting to encourage more people to come out to the polls. A final vote is expected on Monday, before moving to the Senate.
Supporters say the bill would save money for those running expensive campaigns, and also help reduce the fiscal costs for local boards of election. The bill sponsor, Bert Jones, U-Rockingham, favors early voting but feels the current period is too long, "I guess the question is; how much is enough?"
Those who oppose the bill argue that it disenfranchises some voters and diminishes the strength of minority voters. Rep. Kelly Alexander, D-Mecklenburg, said "It doesn't matter if you vote for the GOP, or ride a donkey to the polls, this is a bad idea."
HB 845, Annexation Reform Act of 2011, tentatively passed the House this week with a vote of 102-13. Lawmakers have reworked archaic forced-annexation laws that have been in place for more than 50 years. This bill would help give more rights to landowners that do not want to be forced into a municipality and paying taxes for services they may or may not receive. The current bill, which has strong support from both sides, would block a city's decision to annex land if 60% of the landowners file petitions opposing it. It would also bar their town or city from involuntary annexation in that area for three years. A vote on the third reading is expected on Monday, before heading to the Senate.
Yesterday, a House committee decided that newspapers aren't quite old news, yet - local governments are still required to post legal notices in newspapers. H 472, An Act to Allow All Cities and Counties to Give Electronic Notice, failed to make it out of the General Government Committee with a 21-10 vote. For the last 70 years, it has been state law that all local governments must post legal notices in newspapers. This bill would have made the switch from newspapers to posting the notices online, in all public libraries, and the Clerk of Court offices which would save local governments about $6 million a year in newspaper printing fees.