News: CJ Exclusives

Republicans Move Forward on Annexation Reform and Tort Reform

Health care, offshore drilling, and DNA sampling also taken up

RALEIGH — After handing the budget over to the Senate last week, the North Carolina House spent this week reforming annexation, medical malpractice, and workers’ compensation laws.

Other bills that moved forward in the House include one that would take the first step in implementing the federal health care reforms in the state, one that would change the state’s energy policy from conservation to exploration, and one that would expand the use of DNA sampling on arrest.

Annexation reform

Republicans are halfway to fulfilling a major campaign promise — reforming the state’s involuntary annexation law. House Bill 845, the Annexation Reform Act of 2011, passed its second reading in the House Thursday by a landslide and is expected to pass a final reading on Monday. The bill should face minimal opposition in the Senate, which has a veto-proof Republican majority and is the only chamber to pass the Involuntary Annexation Moratorium bill.

If passed, the Annexation Reform Act would give property owners facing annexation a voice for the first time in 50 years. They could veto a proposed annexation by getting 60 percent of the annexed property owners to sign a protest petition. The bill also would require cities to provide water and sewer service to annexed property owners at no cost to the property owner, a cost that may deter cities from annexing in the first place.

Another victory for annexation reform advocates, House Bill 168 passed a Senate committee this week. The bill would exempt farms from annexation, extraterritorial jurisdiction, and zoning laws.

Tort reform

House Bill 542, Tort Reform for Citizens and Businesses, passed out of committee this week and will be up for a vote on the House floor on May 18. The bill would make it more difficult to sue pharmaceutical and other companies for injuries.

The House Select Committee on Tort Reform also discussed House Bill 709, a workers’ compensation reform bill.

In a press conference, Speaker of the House Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, said the two bills, along with tax reform and regulatory reform, would help create jobs.

Health care exchanges

House Bill 115, the North Carolina Health Benefit Exchange, passed out of committee and is scheduled for a vote on the House floor May 17. The bill directs the state to take its first step in
implementing the federal health reform law.

At the same time, a group of Republican legislators have
filed an amicus brief in support of a 26-state lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of ObamaCare.

Energy independence

Senate Bill 709, Energy Jobs Act, passed out of the Senate and moved to the House this week. The bill would change the focus of the state’s 35-year-old energy policy from conservation to exploration, encouraging offshore drilling and exploration and utilization of other in-state energy sources.

DNA samples

House Bill 483, which would expand the types of crimes for which DNA samples may be collected upon arrest, passed the House and moved to the Senate. Rep. Glen Bradley, R-Franklin, voiced opposition to the bill on the House floor, saying it was a violation of the Fourth and Fifth amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

Action on other bills

Sen. Tom Apodaca’s second attempt to shore up a bankrupt State Health Plan — Senate Bill 323 — is back on Gov. Bev Perdue’s desk. The Henderson County Republican’s bill is a slightly amended version of Senate Bill 265, which the governor vetoed last month. The bill would require state employees to pay premiums for their health care and would have transferred oversight of the State Health Plan to the state treasurer’s office.

House Bill 129, an effort to limit local government competition with private business, also passed both chambers and now awaits the governor’s approval or veto. The bill would subject city-owned providers of Internet, cable television, and telephone services to the same regulations that private communications service providers are subject to. Bill Sponsor Marilyn Avila, R-Wake, calls it “leveling the playing field.”

Sara Burrows is an associate editor of Carolina Journal.