Immigration, corporation legislation mark session's end

Life could get harder for illegal immigrants and easier for corporations

Staff WriterJune 19, 2011 

— The Republican-led state legislature closed the shortest "long" session in nearly 30 years Saturday with the passage of bills that would make it tougher for illegal immigrants to get jobs and easier for multistate corporations to shield their profits from the tax collector.

The Senate finished early Saturday morning, and then the House concluded by spending two hours on roughly a dozen bills.

Legislative leaders called it one of the most productive sessions in history. It lasted 87 legislative days, the shortest long session since 1973. Lawmakers hold a long session every other year.

"I'd have to say we've exceeded my expectations for what we could accomplish," said House Speaker Thom Tillis, a Mecklenburg County Republican.

Senate leader Phil Berger, a Rockingham County Republican, said in a statement that "we did what we said we would do, and we did it more openly and efficiently than any legislature in decades."

But Gov. Bev Perdue, a New Bern Democrat, used the session's closing to fire off another veto, her seventh, of legislation that would prevent the N.C. Association of Educators from receiving dues through a payroll deduction from teachers and other school personnel. She called the legislation a punitive, unconstitutional measure.

"This bill is nothing but a petty and vindictive attempt to seek retribution against a group that opposed the Republican budget," Perdue said in a statement.

The bill did not pass by a veto-proof margin in the House, making it a difficult call for Tillis and Berger to try to override the veto.

GOP control shows

This was the first time since the 19th century that Republicans controlled both chambers in the legislature, and the session was dominated by efforts to turn back decades of Democratic rule. The high point for Republicans was a historic override of Perdue's budget veto, putting in place a GOP-drawn $19.7 billion spending plan that did not keep a temporary penny sales tax increase.

All told, 715 bills passed either the House or Senate, with more than 170 of them now law. Perdue has about 120 bills on her desk to sign or veto by the end of the month. Those she takes no action on after that date become law.

The waning hours of the session produced two more bills that support the Republican agenda, though one of them did not go as far as some members liked.

By a 67-45 vote, House members sent to Perdue a bill that would require all employers with at least 25 employees to use the federal E-Verify program to make sure they are not hiring illegal immigrants. The requirement would be gradually phased in by mid 2013.

Rep. George Cleveland, a Jacksonville Republican and one of the sponsors, said he wanted the bill to cover all employers, but he accepted legislation that covered what he believed to be about 20 percent of the employers in the state.

Others criticized the bill for lacking strong enforcement measures and for creating a virtual "slavery" situation for illegal immigrants already employed who would not be run through the system. The bill covers new hires only.

The other bill that prompted serious debate gives multistate corporations more latitude in shifting income to related entities, and thereby avoid a bigger state tax bill. Some Democrats contended the legislation would cost the state at least $30 million, while Republicans called it a pro-business bill that would create jobs.

It passed by a 79-30 vote.

Lawmakers also tossed a few bones to state agencies and officials on the last day, passing a budget corrections bill that restored $500,000 for Tryon Palace in Perdue's hometown and allowing Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton, a Rutherfordton Democrat, to keep his state-issued cellphone.

They walked away from legislation that created a storm of controversy within the environmental community by cutting the state's air toxics program to rely solely on federal regulations. Rep. Pat McElraft, an Emerald Isle Republican, who inserted the legislation into another environmental bill on Tuesday, said the issue would now be studied until the legislative short session next year.

"We just pulled the whole bill," McElraft said. "Let's study this in the interim and make sure it's scientific."

Lawmakers will return July 13 to take up the task of redrawing legislative and congressional districts in time for the 2012 election. During that time, they can also take up bills that Perdue vetoed, bills relating to election laws or bills that remained in negotiation between the House and Senate on Saturday.

dkane@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4861

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