News: CJ Exclusives

NCGA Preview: Week of March 28

Redistricting, broadband on the agenda

In a week that could prove to be its busiest yet of the long session, the North Carolina General Assembly is primed to tackle an array of issues ranging from open-records access to university appointments to firearms training for lawmakers.

Ongoing budget talks loom behind this week’s busy agenda, guaranteeing to widen an already gaping partisan divide between Republican majorities in the legislature and Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue. To boot, a joint House and Senate committee is scheduled to begin work Wednesday on the strife-ridden task of redistricting.

House side

Two pertinent bills are on the House calendar for Monday night. The first — House Bill 180, Wilmington Annexation Suspension — would suspend Wilmington’s annexation of Monkey Junction until 2012. The second — House Bill 129, Level Playing Field/Local Gov’t Competition — would discourage municipalities from building their own broadband networks.

H.B. 129 drew over an hour of heated debate last week before gaining tentative approval in a 80-32 vote.

Also on the House side, lawmakers are slated to take up two government reform measures. House Bill 87, Sunshine Amendment, is on the calendar for Wednesday. It would enshrine North Carolina’s open-records law in the state constitution, but debate has hinged on whether the bill should be converted from an amendment to a less-powerful statute.

On Tuesday, the House is set to consider House Bill 61, Speaker/Pro Tem Term Limits, a measure to term-limit top leaders in both chambers of the legislature to no more than two sessions.

In an unprecedented move, Rep. Mark Hilton, R-Catawba, is sponsoring a concealed-weapons class for legislators and their staff on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings. Right now, state law prohibits anyone but law enforcement officers from carrying concealed weapons on state property, including the Legislative Building, but Hilton has introduced a bill exempting elected officials from the restrictions.

Meanwhile, House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, said his chamber is expected to make its appointments to the University of North Carolina Board of Governor’s this week. The Senate voted last week on its eight appointments.

Senate side

The Senate’s schedule could prove to be more peaceful than in the House — with a handful of exceptions.

One of those is Senate Bill 265, State Health Plan/Appropriations and Transfer, which would transfer state employees’ health insurance from under the General Assembly’s jurisdiction to the state treasurer’s office. More contentious is a provision that also requires state employees to shoulder some of the burden for premiums and raises co-pays and deductibles.

The Senate tentatively approved the bill last week by a party line 30-17 vote.

Another measure — House Bill 7, Comm. Colleges/Opt Out of Fed’l Loan Program — will be heard in the Senate Education/Higher Education Committee on Wednesday. The measure would give community colleges leeway to opt out of federal loan programs. It passed the House in a partisan split, 69-47, in early March.

MAJOR LEGISLATION

Senate Bill 8, No Cap on Number of Charter Schools, Sen. Richard Stevens, R-Wake

Senate Bill 33, Medical Liability Reforms, Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson

House Bill 351, Restore Confidence in Government, Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett

House Bill 215, Unborn Victims of Violence Act/Ethen’s Law, Rep. Dale Folwell, R-Forsyth

KEY COMMITTEE HEARINGS

A list of the regularly scheduled House Committee meetings can be found here.

• The House Health and Human Services Committee will hear House Bill 115, North Carolina Health Benefit Exchange, at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, March 29

• The House Transportation Committee will hear House Bill 422, No High-Speed Rail Money from Federal Gov’t, at noon on Tuesday, March 29

• The Senate Education/Higher Education Committee will hear H.B. 7, Comm. Colleges/Opt Out of Fed’l Loan Program, at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, March 30

• The House Education Committee will hear House Bill 342, High School Accreditation, at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, March 29

NEW BILLS

House Bill 466, Spend 65% of Funds in the Classroom, Rep. John Blust, R-Guilford

House Bill 475, English the Official Language, Rep. Kelly Hastings, R-Gaston

Senate Bill 419, Campaign Finance Reform and Regulatory Reforms, Sen. Jim Davis, R-Macon

Senate Bill 420, Municipal Sunshine Act, Sen. Don Vaughan, D-Guilford

Senate Bill 412, Public Meetings/Records Law Violations, Sen. Thom Goolsby, R-New Hanover

David N. Bass is an associate editor of Carolina Journal.