Under the Dome

Bill that thwarts Racial Justice Act appears veto-proof

cjarvis@newsobserver.com June 13, 2012 

BENCHES02.061212.TI

A commemorative bench unveiling ceremony at the State Capitol Wednesday, June 12, 2012. The benches are for the first phase of a project that enhances the green space at the State Capitol while honoring people who have served the state government.

TAKAAKI IWABU — tiwabu@newsobserver.com

The House gave final approval Wednesday to a bill that hobbles the Racial Justice Act. The vote followed another lengthy debate on a day that drew a full House – literally, the entire House of Representatives showed up. The vote was 73 to 47 along party lines, with five conservative Democrats breaking ranks to vote with Republicans.

The bill now goes to the Senate, where it is expected to pass. Last year, Gov. Bev Perdue vetoed a bill that was meant to torpedo the Racial Justice Act, which allows death-row inmates to use statistical proof of widespread racial bias in North Carolina capital case prosecutions to convert their sentence to life in prison without parole.

The Senate overrode the veto, but the House didn’t have the votes to try. This new attempt at getting rid of the 2009 law was fashioned as a compromise, worked out in private, aimed at convincing the conservative Democrats to break ranks.

The votes on Tuesday and Wednesday show the House has the 72 votes needed for an override, if Perdue vetoes this bill.

Rep. Tim Moore, a Republican from Cleveland County, said on the House floor Wednesday that if there is evidence of racial bias in someone’s trial, the solution isn’t converting the sentence to life in prison but in having a whole new trial.

Rep. Deborah Ross, a Democrat from Raleigh, said supporters of the bill were disingenuous when they said it was just an amendment and not a demolishing of the 2009 law.

“There is absolutely no question at all under the law that this bill repeals the Racial Justice Act,” Ross said. “Just don’t go home and lie about it.”

Eight benches unveiled

Jim Holshouser, Gene Anderson, Meg Scott Phipps, Phil Kirk and other names from Tar Heel politics gathered at the Capitol on Wednesday to unveil eight benches on Union Square.

The benches, some made for outdoor and others indoor, were donated to commemorate governors such as Holshouser (1973-77), Bev Perdue (2009-2013), Jim Martin (1985-1993), and Bob Scott (1969-1973) as well as first lady Jessie Rae Scott and Secretary of State Thad Eure (1936-89).

Phipps, who was agriculture commissioner before going to prison in a campaign-finance scandal, had one of the longest speeches, talking about three of those honored with benches – her father, mother and grandfather.

The benches, she said, “gives them one more chance from up above to serve the citizens of the state.”

The metal benches were handcrafted by metal artists from Carolina Bronze in Seagrove. There will be more unveiled honoring prominent North Carolina leaders in October.

Surprise budget response

Normally members of state boards can be relied upon to lobby the legislature for more money for their state agencies or bodies.

But Bob Luddy, a Raleigh businessman and a fiscal conservative, is an exception.

As a member of the Rural Economic Development Board, Luddy sent a letter to fellow board members saying he could not support asking for an expanded budget.

“The General Assembly is dealing with the financial realities of 2012,” Luddy wrote. “Our business community is stifled by high taxes, heavy regulation and a struggling economy, which requires incentives to invest, produce and create jobs.”

“The Rural Economic Development Board must understand and adjust to these realities,” Luddy wrote.

“Requesting new funds and a continuation of existing funds is not acceptable, which is why I voted no to these proposals.”

Staff writers Craig Jarvis

and Rob Christensen

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