Saturday, July 28, 2007

Notes 7-28-07

Legislators took time to honor the Tuskegee Airmen this week, including about 40 North Carolinians who were members of the famed cadre of black pilots that served in the segregated military during World War II. House Resolution 2063 lists the names of Tuskegee Airmen who were either born in or who live in North Carolina. Our state salutes them and their families.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation reports that child-wellness has improved in North Carolina. Although infant mortality has increased slightly - teen deaths, children living in poverty, and child deaths have all decreased. North Carolina ranks 39th in the United State in overall child-wellbeing.

As we near the conclusion of this session of the General Assembly, I encourage you to continue to share your thoughts and concerns regarding legislation and circumstances which affect you and your family.


Family 7-28-07

This week Governor Mike Easley signed into law a bill that will give adult adoptees and their adult descendants easier access to adoption information. The bill, House Bill 445, allows social services departments and adoption agencies licensed by the state to obtain contact information and medical histories on behalf of adult adoptees. Adoptees and birth parents can also obtain identification information if both parties consent.


The House Committee on Finance is considering a bill that would allow the towns of Monroe, Marshville, and Wingate to use 90 percent of the money obtained from traffic violators caught by red light cameras to go to public schools. The bill, House Bill 1228, also raises the civil penalty for a violation detected by the red light cameras from $50 to $75. The bill comes after the state Supreme Court decided that the city of High Point had operated its red light camera system illegally by not giving the schools all the money required by law.

Health 7-28-07

North Carolinians may soon have more control over whether or not they wish to receive “life-prolonging measures” and/or how they would like to end their lives while in medical care. The House Committee on Judiciary I cleared Senate Bill 1046, that simplifies the legal end-of-life forms. The bill allows North Carolinians to specify which methods they do not want used to prolong life unnaturally.

Real Taxpayer Subsidy

Yesterday the House overwhelmingly approved House Bill 205, sponsored by Rep. George Cleveland and me, which repeals a budget provision slipped into the 2005 budget that would have given a taxpayer subsidy to the booster clubs affiliated with the UNC schools. The provision gave out-of-state students on an athletic scholarship in-state tuition, which counted them as in-state students for admission purposes as well. It was expected to cost the taxpayers $8 million in 2008-2009, and $12 million in 2009-2010. The House retained the provision for in-state tuition for academic scholarships which and largely benefits UNC and NCSU.

Justice 7-28-07

The General Assembly ratified bills this week that would standardize and improve eyewitness lineups and police interrogations. The Eyewitness ID Reform Act, House Bill 1625, requires standardized procedures for lineups of individuals or photos. Lineups must be conducted by someone who is not involved in the investigation and has no information about potential suspects. The lineup would also have to be presented sequentially and witness confidence levels of an ID must be recorded. The second bill, House Bill 1626, requires interrogations in a homicide investigation to be recorded by video or audio. The bills now go to the governor to be signed into law.

The House has agreed to study whether the thousands of people who were sterilized through the state eugenics program in the early 20th century should be compensated. Under House Bill 296, the Department of Health and Human Services will report the findings of the study to the General Assembly. In the early 20th century, 30 states implemented eugenics programs to sterilize those who where considered mentally handicapped or genetically inferior to prevent these issues from being passed on genetically.

Assorted Environmental Legislation

The Legislature has taken action on a variety of environmental issues:

Landfills. Senate Bill 1492, which proposes comprehensive changes to the state's landfill regulations, was approved by the Senate Friday. Senate Bill 716, which would extend the moratorium on new landfills for a year and has several of the noncontroversial changes from Senate Bill 1492 (I was a sponsor of the House companion, House Bill 1233), passed the House Environment Committee Friday. Rep. Pryor Gibson has stripped House Bill 1233 and made it a more industry friendly bill, but that has not been heard.

Nutrient Offset. This contentious issue has started moving as the session winds down. A bill passed last session that undid an Environmental Management Commission rule that set a mitigation fee for development in the Neuse and Tar-Pamlico basins, and kept an artificially low fee in place. The Environmental Review Commission then studied this issue and considered alternatively higher fees. The realtor and developer lobby has pushed to keep the fees artificially low and inadequate to compensate for impact to the resource. On Friday, Senate Finance approved House Bill 589, which sets the fee at an intermediate level and refers the rule back to the EMC for further rulemaking.

Interbasin Transfer. On Friday, the Senate passed House Bill 820, which had been stripped of its contents to be replaced with the substance of Senate Bill 1421 (a bill addressing interbasin transfers, “IBT”) so that it can go back to the House for a concurrence vote, although the House has not discussed this highly contentious issue at all. The bill directs the EMC to tighten up its rules on transferring water between basins as well as requiring drought management measures equal to that in the donating basin. The bill does not contain a provision that would have undone the controversial Concord-Kannapolis transfer found in other IBT bills.

Impact Fees. Senate Bill 1180, sponsored by lieutenant governor candidate Sen Walter Dalton, which would severely restrict the ability of local governments to adopt impact fees for adequate facilities ordinances, has been sent to the Senate floor. The bill prohibits local governments from imposing impact fees or payments in exchange for project approval unless local government has explicit authority to do so under North Carolina law. Senate Bill 1152, requires that if a city or county illegally exacts a fee and is required by a court ruling to repay the fee, the local government must pay it back with 6% interest.

Billboards. Senate Bill 150 has also passed the Senate. This bill would allow billboard companies to substantially increase the area for cutting trees and other vegetation around billboards. It is not expected to move in the House this session.

Hogs 7-28-07

The North Carolina House voted unanimously to accept a bill that would replace hog lagoons with more environmentally friendly systems. Under the bill, Senate Bill 1465, existing lagoons could continue to operate but, no new lagoons could be built. Hog lagoons have led to polluted waterways during floods and created intolerable living conditions for neighbors. I cosponsored Rep. Carolyn Justice’s stronger House companion, House Bill 1115. The state has had a moratorium on new lagoons for the past 10 years, but replacing them with new, cleaner technology is expensive. The bill proposes a $2 million a year cost-sharing program to help farmers pay the cost of replacing the pits with systems that meet performance standards relating to odor, toxins, contaminants, or nutrients. The new systems could produce useful byproducts such as compost or electricity from the methane gas released. The bill is supported by environmental, farm, and industry groups, and would represent a major step forward after years of trying to find better ways to handle hog waste. The compromise will protect farmers’ investments and livelihoods while also keeping the state’s waters and soil clean. I share the concerns of many advocates who want a date certain for the phaseout of existing lagoons which the bill does not contain. The bill now goes to Gov. Mike Easley for his signature.

Energy 7-28-07

The House has moved closer to passing comprehensive changes to the state's current energy policy. Senate Bill 3 has passed the House Energy and Energy Efficiency, Public Utilities, and Finance Committees this week. The House Energy Committee, which I chair, voted the bill out on Monday afternoon after 6 hours of hearings. Rep. Grier Martin and I spent several hours Monday morning with utilities lobbyists negotiating changes to the bill and I think we came up with some good improvements which we added in the Energy Committee. By way of reminder, not much happens at the General Assembly that impacts the utilities that the utilities haven't signed off on. The bill is much improved, having added better environmental controls on the renewable energy provisions. We also added a requirement that utilities prove that they cannot meet any increased energy demands with renewables and efficiencies prior to getting approval to build a plant. The troubling swine set asides and CWIP provisions remain in the bill. At this point, I do feel that the good outweighs the bad. If we do not adopt a renewable energy standard this session, I think we have lost the chance for a few sessions. We can't wait much longer to start weaning ourselves off fossil fuels and pursuing a more sustainable energy future. Senate Bill 3 starts us on that path.

Greetings From Raleigh 07-28-07

The North Carolina House of Representatives completed negotiations this week on a state budget. We hope to give the budget final approval on Monday.

The budget invests heavily in education, increasing the amount of money given for scholarships and grants by millions of dollars, while also putting more money into preschool programs. Budget conferees also agreed to take over the counties’ share of Medicaid expenses – estimated at $520 million this fiscal year - over the next three years. This will help our rural counties that are particularly burdened by the increasing costs of Medicaid. In addition, it was decided to give counties more flexibility by allowing them to raise additional taxes for school construction, infrastructure, and other improvements. Counties can decide to raise the sales tax by a quarter of a cent or the land transfer tax to 0.6 percent with local voter approval. There are also good provisions and funding for environmental protection and conservation.

I will provide more details about the budget plan next week after the final version is approved.

Please remember that you can listen to each day’s session, committee meetings and press conferences on the General Assembly’s website at Once on the site, select “audio,” and then make your selection – House Chamber, Senate Chamber, Appropriations Committee Room or Press Conference Room.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Notes 7-20-07

The House honored the late Sen. Jeanne Lucas on Tuesday, remembering her as a lawmaker dedicated to improving education. Lucas, a former teacher and school administrator, died in March at the age of 71. She had served in the Senate since 1993. Sen. Lucas was a champion for environmental justice causes in addition to her leadership on education and poverty related issues. Her family and many of her friends sat in the audience as Lucas' colleagues recalled her humor and the guidance she often provided.

While the days ahead will be hectic and long, I continue to encourage you to contact me regarding your thoughts on legislation being considered by the General Assembly. The process works best when all participants are informed and engaged.


Public Saftey 7-20-07

A bill headed to the governor would require motorcycle and moped riders to wear helmets that meet federal safety standards. The existing law requires only that the state Division of Motor Vehicles commissioner approve the helmets. The federal standard is stricter. The proposal, House Bill 563, also includes a provision that would allow local governments to regulate protests along state roads. The Senate approved the bill this week and House concurred with the new version.

Health 7-20-07

People who smoke in nursing homes or adult-care centers would be subject to a $200 fine under a House bill that's now moving through the Senate. The bill was introduced in April, just after a cigarette ignited a fire at an adult care home in Davie County, killing one person and injuring 21 others. Residents of such homes are already banned from smoking in their rooms, but can smoke in indoor lounges. The bill, House Bill 1294, returns to the House, where members will decide whether to accept a Senate change that would exempt state psychiatric hospitals from the smoking ban.


A bill that would reform the way medical malpractice cases are handled in North Carolina passed the General Assembly this week and is ready for the governor's signature. House Bill 1671 would require parties to discuss arbitration as a possible way to resolve malpractice cases. If all parties agree, a strict timetable for the arbitration, along with other guidelines for the negotiations, go into place. The guidelines are intended to help get the cases resolved quicker than a trial and a cap of $1 million on all damages --economic and non-economic -- would apply. The bill is the latest example of how state lawmakers are trying to speed up the handling of malpractice cases and limit the costs associated with lengthy trials and legal procedures that increase the costs. The bill represents a compromise crafted with the help of the NC Medical Society and the Academy of Trial Lawyers.


About half of the state will be densely populated by 2030, according to a new report from the Conservation Trust for North Carolina. The report analyzed housing density statistics as far back as 1940 and says farms, forests, and other open spaces have become "islands in a sea of suburban development." CTNC and others have been pushing for a $1 billion bond referendum for conservation, at least $6 million for farmland preservation, and expanded tax incentives for land preservation. Land conservation is a priority of mine and I have sponsored most of those measures: House Bill 990, Land and Water Conservation Bond of 2007, House Bill 1889, Present-Use Value System Modifications, House Bill 332, Funds for Farmland Preservation Trust Fund, and House Bill 2002, Clarifying Property Tax for Conservation Land.

Energy 7-20-07

The House Energy and Energy Efficiency Committee, which I chair, continued consideration of Senate Bill 3, the renewable energy and efficiency portfolio standard (REPS)/baseload bill. Representatives Grier Martin, Jim Harrell, Carolyn Justice, and I had sponsored the House companion to the REPS part of the bill, House Bill 77. As I have mentioned in previous newsletters, this well intentioned bill, originally proposed to move us toward a more sustainable energy future, has been loaded up with sweeteners for the utilities. We have had several hours of hearings and discussion on the bill and hope to make some well needed changes to the bill before it is voted out of the Energy Committee this Monday. It then must go to the Committees on Public Utilities and Finance. Public opposition to the bill is heating up, with consumer advocates and most environmentalists opposed to the bill and most of the business community in favor of it. The Governor's office has also expressed concerns with the bill.

The Charlotte Observer and News and Observer have written excellent editorials on the bill, with links posted below.

Editorial: Fix it or Hold it

Editorial: Power Plays

Enviornment 7-20-07

Existing hog lagoons would be phased out and new ones would be difficult to build under legislation approved this week by the House Agriculture Committee. These open pits - which store hog waste that is later sprayed on fields - are smelly health hazards that have made living conditions deplorable for neighbors of the farms. The state has had a moratorium on new lagoons for the past 10 years, but replacing them with new, cleaner technology is expensive. Senate Bill 1465 (I cosponsored the House companion, House Bill 1254, sponsored by Carolyn Justice), proposes a $2 million a year cost-sharing program to help farmers pay the cost of replacing the pits with more environmentally friendly systems. It also would create a pilot program to use methane from the lagoons to generate electricity. The bill is supported by farm, industry, and some environmental groups and would represent a major step forward after years of trying to find better ways to handle hog waste. The deal will protect farmers' investments and livelihoods while also starting to clean up the state's waters and soil. North Carolina is the nation's second-largest hog farming state with 10 million animals and $6.7 billion in yearly sales. The Environmental Justice Network and several of the Riverkeeper organizations feel the bill does not go far enough and want a permanent ban and phaseout of existing lagoons. Rep. Earl Jones and I sponsored such legislation, House Bill 1822, but it never had any traction given the opposition of the industry.

Greetings From Raleigh 07-20-07

A final budget and the end of this year's legislative session are in sight. The House and the Senate have nearly completed negotiations on a final spending plan and committee chairs have been asked to finish their work by July 28. General Assembly leaders are continuing discussions on a strategy for the state to assume the Medicaid costs paid by the counties and members of both chambers are considering a number of ways to do this. Some of the plans would allow the counties to levy either a quarter-cent sales tax or a .4 percent land transfer tax, but only with voter approval. Those plans would make sure that counties have the money they need to pay for schools and other infrastructure needs and could result in lower property taxes.

In other business this week, we made some important progress on bills to reform our medical malpractice laws and to improve our criminal justice system. We also moved closer to protecting residents of long-term care facilities from the fire hazards associated with smoking, and to continuing to guard our environment against the problems associated with hog lagoons.

Please remember that you can listen to each day's session, committee meetings and press conferences on the General Assembly's website at Once on the site, select "audio," and then make your selection - House Chamber, Senate Chamber, Appropriations Committee Room or Press Conference Room.

Friday, July 13, 2007

The House ratified a bill this week that will allow voters to register and vote on the same day. House Bill 91 requires potential voters to bring proper identification and a completed voter registration form. Under the current law voter registration ends 25 days before an election.

Please continue to contact me with your thoughts and concerns regarding the business of the Legislature. Together we can affect positive changes for all the citizens of Greensboro and Guilford County.




Adult adoptees may have a better chance of contacting their birth parents because of a bill now headed to the Senate floor. The bill, House Bill 445, received a favorable report this week from a Senate judiciary committee. It would allow intermediaries such as licensed adoption agency staff, a child placing agency, or county department of social services to arrange contact and/or the exchange of family health information. The bill also allows the sharing of identifying information if both parties consent.

Public Saftey 7-13-07

A bill to require photo developers to report the discovery of child pornography found while they were working is headed to Gov. Mike Easley for his signature. The House voted unanimously Wednesday to concur with changes made in the Senate. House Bill 27 also requires computer technicians who find apparent images of minors engaging in sexual activity to report the name of the person who possesses the computer.

The Senate passed a House bill this week that would ban school bus drivers from talking on cell phones while driving, a bill which I co-sponsored, House Bill 183. This common sense safety legislation passed the Senate unanimously. School bus drivers would face a misdemeanor and minimum $100 fine if convicted. The bill will now go to the governor to be signed into law.

Cigarettes that burn out safely when left unattended would be required in North Carolina under a bill approved by the House this week. Similar legislation has been approved in more than a dozen states and Canada, according to the Coalition for Fire-Safe Cigarettes. The group says cigarettes cause up to 900 deaths a year. The bill, House Bill 1785, now goes to the Senate.

Ethics 7-13-07

The full House is prepared to consider a bill that would require candidates for elected office to disclose any felony convictions they may have. The committee on Election Law and Campaign Finance Reform, of which I am a member, amended the bill, Senate Bill 1218, to clarify that felony convictions do not permanently disqualify a person from running for public office. The Senate approved the bill in May.

Energy 7-13-07

The House Energy and Energy Efficiency Committee, which I chair, has begun consideration of Senate Bill 3, which started out as a renewable energy bill but has become a giveaway to utilities. Senate Bill 3 is the result of months of negotiations of many interested parties, although consumers and ratepayers were vastly underrepresented. The House was not part of that process, and it is our hope that we will give the bill thoughtful and thorough consideration before it moves. Senate Bill 3 is a major overhaul of energy policy in this state and it deserves more than the 30 minutes of committee consideration it received in the Senate.


A new report from the environmental group Environmental Defense predicts that new technologies to manage hog waste could generate 7,000 jobs and $10 billion over a 20-year period. The report says that hog farmers should replace lagoon systems with cleaner systems that create marketable byproducts such as compost. Rep. Earl Jones and I have introduced legislation , House Bill 1822, that would require a permanent phase out of old hog lagoons that don't adopt the new technologies, but resistance from the hog industry has prevented that bill being heard. In addition, Rep. Carolyn Justice has sponsored legislation, House Bill 1933, which I cosponsored, which would require that hog lagoons adopt the new technologies, and bans new lagoons that don't. That bill is pending in the House Agriculture Committee, where it has been held up until the hog industry's objections can be dealt with. And why can't we just pass good legislation over the objections of the hog industry? Not until we get true campaign finance reform in North Carolina.

Health 7-13-07

North Carolina is on the brink of taking a major step to improve care for people with mental illnesses. On Thursday, the House concurred with changes made by a Senate committee to a bill, House Bill 973, that requires that insurance companies cover bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, anorexia nervosa, and bulimia and three other mental illnesses the same way that they treat physical illnesses. All other metal health conditions will be covered for up to 30 inpatient/outpatient days and 30 office visits. Mental health parity has been debated in the North Carolina Legislature for 15 years and if Gov. Mike Easley signs this bill, the state will join 36 others that already offer some form of mental health parity.

Education 7-13-07

A change in the way lottery money is distributed could mean more money for school construction in more than half the state's counties, but Guilford would be subject to a $2.7 million loss as would other urban counties. Under existing law, 40 percent of the net lottery profits are set aside to help build schools. The formula awards a disproportionate amount to counties with property tax rates higher than the state average. The bill, House Bill 9, would change the formula so that 65 percent of the allocation was based on the number of students in each district. Half of the remaining 35 percent will go to districts where the student population has grown in the past five years and the other half will go to districts in poor counties. The bill now goes to the Senate.

Greetings From Raleigh 07-13-07

Budget negotiators from both houses continue to make progress on the state's spending plan for this fiscal year, having agreed on pay increases of 5 percent for educators and 4 percent for other state employees. This week, the Senate also moved closer to accepting the House version of a plan to free up money in the counties for school construction and other needs. The plan would relieve counties of their Medicaid costs - more than an estimated $500 million this year -- within a few years. The plan would also give many of the state's poorest workers an earned income tax credit that would lessen some of their tax costs. The plan now returns to the House, where my colleagues and I will continue to push for greater tax relief and more money for education.

In other business, the House approved legislation this week that would better protect our children from sexual predators and keep them safer on their school buses. The House also signed off on landmark legislation to make mental health care more affordable for thousands of people in North Carolina. It's an important step forward for health care in this state and one many representatives have supported for years. We also began consideration of sweeping energy legislation.

Please remember that you can listen to each day's session, committee meetings and press conferences on the General Assembly's website at Once on the site, select "audio," and then make your selection - House Chamber, Senate Chamber, Appropriations Committee Room, or Press Conference Room.