Key bills could be part of final week rush

June 13, 2011 

Yes, crossover week was crazy, but this week could be just as nuts on Jones Street, as the General Assembly rushes through what's expected to be its final week of the long session. Some high-priority bills on the Republican leadership's agenda in the next few days:

Voter identification - HB351 would require voters to show photo ID at the polls.

Annexation - HB845 would allow property owners to block annexation if 60 percent of them petition against it, among other provisions. It's in the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday.

Lawsuits - HB542 would protect FDA-approved drugs from product liability lawsuits, except in cases of fraud or bribery. It's in a Senate judiciary committee meeting today.

Environment - SB781 is aimed at making the licensing process easier, but environmental advocates say it will also weaken protections. A section of this bill also gives administrative law judges the final word, rather than just a recommendation to a state agency, in appeals of agency decisions. (Although either side in a dispute would still be able to appeal to Superior Court.)

Guns - There are several dueling gun bills in play: HB111 allows concealed weapons permit holders to bring handguns into parks and restaurants that serve alcohol. SB34 addresses the "castle doctrine," the use of force against intruders. So does HB650, which also allows concealed-carry permit holders to lock their guns in their car trunks at schools, courthouses and highway rest stops. A Senate judiciary committee is taking it up today.

Making the case for Rex

Dr. Bill Roper, UNC Health Care CEO, told the UNC Board of Governors this week why he thinks selling Rex is a bad idea.

Roper briefed the UNC system's governing board about the mission, operations and future of a health care system founded in 1879 as a medical school and now a growing statewide health care network. Medical school training has expanded to Asheville and Charlotte, and, of course, the system owns Rex Healthcare facilities in Wake County.

That has been the focus of hot debate since May, when WakeMed made a $750 million hostile bid to buy Rex, its Wake County rival.

Roper said "dismembering" UNC Health Care by carving out Rex would hurt the whole system. "This whole enterprise, this integration, is at risk if we start pulling the parts away," he said.

"The sale of Rex would jeopardize our ability to carry out our mission for those folks who have nowhere else to go," Roper added, referring to indigent patients.

Roper also briefed the board about the system's expansion, including a planned 68-bed hospital in Hillsborough.

A few board members asked Roper about the wisdom of such growth. Roper said the industry is experiencing consolidation; he predicted that in a few years there would be a handful of large health care organizations providing most of the care in the state.

"I want us to be one," he said.

Layoff notices going out

Bracing for the consequences of the state budget approved by legislators, administrators at the state court system have begun issuing notices to employees who will be laid off effective June 30.

The budget approved by the Republican-led legislature cuts funding for the state court system by 8 percent, or about $38 million. That includes the elimination of about 300 jobs.

About 194 of those jobs are vacant, following a round of voluntary buyouts of court employees in March. However, most of the rest will be leaving involuntarily.

Last week, the department eliminated 17 positions in its technology department. That follows 20 positions eliminated in the same department last year. In addition, the jobs of two juvenile court coordinators and 55 district attorney support staff set to be eliminated at the end of the month.

Also gone will be 32 employees who run drug treatment courts, an entire program eliminated under the GOP budget. The program works with offenders willing to get treatment for their substance abuse problems as an alternative to going to prison.

Compiled by staff writers Craig Jarvis, Jane Stancill and Michael Biesecker

craig.jarvis@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4576

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