Mar 10, 2017

NCGA Week in Review

Last Friday, Gov. Cooper signed his first bill into law , and the General Assembly passed two more bills this week, which now await his approval. Additionally, many bills were heard in committee this week related to reshaping the state’s judiciary, regulating fantasy sports, and drone use around prisons and jails.

Confirmation Proceedings Continue

Arguments began this week before the three judge panel that will decide the constitutionality of the Senate confirmation process. However, this did not deter the Senate from continuing to hold hearings, and issue subpoenas for Gov. Cooper’s cabinet appointments. Senate committees issued subpoenas on Wednesday for Jim Trogdon, Secretary of Transportation, and Erik Hooks, Secretary of Public Safety. A subpoena was also issued on Thursday for Susi Hamilton, Secretary of Natural and Cultural Resources. Larry Hall, Secretary of Military and Veteran Affairs, was confirmed this week. He was Cooper’s first appointee confirmed by the Senate.

Court Elections, Reductions and Vacancies

Several bills moved through the General Assembly this week that would impact the state’s court system.

HB 100: Restore Partisan Elections/ Sup. & Dist. Court has been passed by the House and Senate, and was sent to Gov. Cooper for his approval on Thursday. The bill, sponsored by Reps. Justin Burr (R-Stanly), Jason Saine (R-Lincoln), Dana Bumgardner (R-Gaston), and Cody Henson (R-Transylvania), would return superior and district court races to partisan elections. Superior and district court elections have been non-partisan since 1996 and 2001, respectively.

Reps. Justin Burr (R-Stanly), David Lewis (R-Harnett), and Sarah Stevens (R-Surry), have sponsored legislation that would gradually reduce the size of the North Carolina Court of Appeals from 15 to 12 judges. Opponents of the legislation say that reducing the size of the court would strain the court. Proponents say the court grew in size because of political appointees. HB 239: Reduce Court of Appeals Judges passed the House on Thursday by a vote of 71-42.

HB 240: GA Appoint for District Court Vacancies passed the House by a vote of 66-47 on Thursday. The bill, sponsored by Reps. Justin Burr (R-Stanly), Kyle Hall (R-Stokes), and Dana Bumgardner (R-Gaston), would require the General Assembly to appoint judges to district court vacancies. If the General Assembly is not in session when a seat becomes vacant, then the Speaker of the House and President Pro-Tem of the Senate may leave the seat vacant until the legislature reconvenes. Under current law, the Governor appoints judges to fill vacancies on district courts.

Drones Over Jails

Reps. Allen McNeill (R-Randolph), John Torbett (R-Gaston), and John Faircloth (R-Guilford) sponsored legislation that would prohibit drone use within 500 horizontal or 250 vertical feet of a state, federal or local detention center. HB 128: Prohibit Drone Use Over Prison/Jail is in response to incidents across the country where contraband has been flown into jails and prisons by a drone. An individual would be charged with a class H felony for transporting a weapon into a detention facility, and a class I felony for transporting illicit materials. Other individuals would be charged with a class 1 misdemeanor.

Economic Terrorism

Legislation sponsored by Reps. John Torbett (R-Gaston), John Blust (R-Guilford), and Justin Burr (R-Stanly) would create criminal offenses for what proponents call “economic terrorism.” HB 249: Economic Terrorism states that an individual is guilty of the crime if he or she obstructs traffic, damages property, or disrupts business that results in damages or losses of more than $1,000 for a business or individual. If found guilty, an individual would be convicted of a class H felony. Opponents of the legislation say this legislation is a violation of first amendment rights. Proponents say the bill protects citizens and business owners from riots and violent protestors.

Fantasy Sports Regulation

A bipartisan group of House members filed a bill this week to regulate fantasy sports gaming in North Carolina. Sponsored by Reps. Jason Saine (R-Lincoln), Jon Hardister (R-Guilford), Ed Hanes (D-Forsyth), and Duane Hall (D-Wake), HB 279: Fantasy Sports Regulation would require the operator of a fantasy sports company to register with the Secretary of State, and pay initial registration and renewal fees. The initial registration fee would be 10% of the operator’s gross revenue from the previous year, but cannot exceed $10,000. The renewal fee would be 10% or $5,000 of the previous year’s net revenue. Renewal would be required every five years.

Lottery Funds for Rural Schools and Principal Pay

Sens. Harry Brown (R-Onslow), Ralph Hise (R-Mitchell), and Jerry Tillman (R-Randolph) sponsored legislation that would use lottery funds for rural school construction, provide bonuses for principals, and increase compensation for assistant principals. SB 234: SBA Pay/Needs-Base Pub. Sch. Capital Fund would provide $75 million for school construction and over $24 million for principal and assistant principal pay. The bill allocates a one-time bonus of $2,600 for every principal in the state, and establishes a competitive bonus program for each school district, which would be administered by the district’s superintendent. Assistant principals would also see a significant salary increase.

Raise the Age for Juvenile Offenders

Reps. David Lewis (R-Harnett), Susan Martin (R-Wilson), Chuck McGrady (R-Henderson), and Duane Hall (D-Wake), sponsored legislation this week that would allow 16 and 17 year-olds to be tried as juveniles. Currently, North Carolina is one of two states that allows offenders of that age to be tried as adults. HB 280: Juvenile Justice Reinvestment Act would continue to allow offenders under 18 to be charged as an adult for certain violent felonies and drug crimes. The bill also includes provisions to create more juvenile justice diversion programs, increase juvenile justice training for law enforcement, and to authorize a new juvenile jurisdiction advisory committee.

Renewable Energy Requirements

Reps. Jimmy Dixon (R-Duplin) and John Bell (R-Wayne) filed HB 267: Utilities/Amend REPS Requirements this week. The bill would reduce the percentage of renewable energy required in energy portfolios of utility providers. Under current law, utility providers are required to have 6% of their sales from renewable energy sources. The rate is scheduled to increase to 10% in 2018 and 12.5% in 2021. This legislation would permanently cap the rate at 8%. The bill also allows utility providers to meet up to 40% of their renewable energy requirements through savings from energy efficiency practices.

Protection for Ex-Government Officials

Sens. Dan Bishop (R-Mecklenburg) and Brent Jackson (R-Sampson) sponsored legislation that would provide security for a former governor for one year after the end of his or her term. SB 229: Protection for Former Government Official would provide one member of the state highway patrol on the occasional basis at the request of the former governor. The expense would be paid by the office of the sitting governor.

Scholarships for STEM and Special Ed Teachers

Sen. Chad Barefoot (R-Wake) and Rep. Craig Horn (R-Union) announced a proposal to recruit new teachers for special education and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) subjects. The proposal, which would be known as the North Carolina Teaching Fellows Program, would provide $8,250 in forgivable loans to participants. Current teachers, as well as high school and college students, would be eligible for the program. Legislative leaders were joined by Margaret Spellings, President of the UNC System, Dr. Randy Woodson, Chancellor of NC State University, Mark Johnson, State Superintendent of Public Instruction, and Dr. Hope Williams, Director of the North Carolina Colleges and Independent Universities, for the announcement. Sen. Barefoot is expected to introduce the legislation next week.

Teacher Bonus Expansion

Sens. Phil Berger (R-Rockingham), Kathy Harrington (R-Gaston) and Trudy Wade (R-Guilford) sponsored SB 169: Teaching Excellence Bonus Expansion . Under legislation passed last session, 3rd grade teachers who met achievement requirements would receive a $3,500 bonus. However, many teachers, who met the requirements, were moved to other positions within their schools, which resulted in a loss of the bonus. This legislation is an effort to correct the missed bonuses.