A scorecard for the GOP-led legislative session

June 30, 2012 

Lawmakers have two more days on Jones Street before they head home for the summer. Expectation is that they’ll spend that time trying to override a few vetoes, put the finishing touches on a few bills and then pack up their desks. •  Typically, they wouldn’t head back into town until January but this isn’t a typical year. They may have to return sooner if they can’t reach an agreement with Gov. Bev Perdue over the budget or to deal with deadlines related to the federal health care law.   •  The two-year session that began January 2011 marked the first time Republicans had controlled the legislature in more than 100 years, and GOP leaders promised to make their mark. Here is a look at what they did – and didn’t do.

Staff writers Craig Jarvis, Lynn Bonner, John Frank, Bruce Siceloff, Austin Baird and Rosella Age

Major legislation

Fracking: Set up a regulatory architecture to begin hydraulic fracturing – underground horizontal high-pressure drilling – for natural gas.

Workers compensation: Caps payments for most disabled workers at 500 weeks, or 9-1/2 years, bringing North Carolina in line with neighboring states. Now there is no cap. The change would not affect workers currently on workers comp. Extends temporary partial disability payments from 300 to 500 weeks. Increases survivors’ death benefits from 400 to 500 weeks and burial expenses from $3,500 to $10,000.

Regulatory reform: Through a series of bills, the GOP-led legislature shaved away environmental and other regulations. Took final decision-making authority in disputes with state departments away from the departments and gave it to administrative law judges.

Marriage amendment: Put a referendum on the state ballot banning legal recognition of same-sex marriages, civil unions and domestic partnerships in the state constitution. Voters approved the amendment in May.

Redistricting: Took advantage of the requirement that congressional and state legislative districts be redrawn every 10 years, and, as Democrats did in past years, created new districts favorable to Republican candidates.

Charter schools: Lifted the 100-charter school limit.

Medical malpractice: Protections for doctors and hospitals were increased in medical malpractice suits, and a cap of $500,000 in noneconomic damages was imposed in virtually all cases. Juries would be told how much of a plaintiff’s medical expenses were covered by insurance.

Public safety: The Justice Reinvestment Act is the most comprehensive rewrite of the state’s sentencing laws in nearly 20 years. It keeps closer tabs on ex-offenders after they’re released from prison to keep them from returning. Data-based research indicates the approach can save the state from having to build and staff more prisons. But lawmakers didn’t include funding to hire probation officers to handle the huge new caseload.

Apparently dead

Voter ID: An effort to require government-issued IDs of voters at the polls was vetoed last year by Gov. Bev Perdue, and GOP leaders were never able to garner enough votes to override. But it could be revived. If Perdue calls a special session to deal with health care or other matters, there may be a repeat of last year’s after-midnight session when, after being called back to deal with the Racial Justice Act, they overrode her veto of a different bill.

Up in the air

Ferry tolls: Citing economic hardship in ferry-dependent counties, the House agreed with Perdue to postpone until 2014 a plan to increase the rates on three tolled ferries and to start collecting tolls on two river ferries, used heavily by commuters, that are toll-free now. But the Senate disagreed, and the adopted budget called for starting the new tolls right away. At week’s end, the House was pushing for changes in the budget, including a measure that would push to tolls back to 2014. If legislators and Perdue ultimately agree to raise the tolls in 2013, DOT officials say they can implement the changes in about four weeks.

Sea-level forecasting: Alarmed by the warning from a panel of scientists who said North Carolina should prepare for a 39-inch rise in sea level by 2100, the Senate approved far-reaching restrictions that would slow down the science of sea-level forecasting. Planning agencies would be barred from basing any new rules on a prediction that the sea will rise faster and faster in the coming decades. Senators and a group that promotes coastal economic development favor a more modest forecast: 8 inches. The House rejected the Senate bill, and both chambers will consider a compromise worked out by conferees last week.

Winners

State employees: Get a pay raise, and a little more for retirement, if the budget that is supposed to go into effect Monday survives.

Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians: Under a new 30-year gambling compact, the tribe will add new casinos and introduce Las Vegas-style games with live dealers.

Teachers: Get small pay increases but – like state employees – will only see them if the budget survives.

Republicans: New districts boundaries give them advantages in state and congressional elections.

Business: The N.C. Chamber of Commerce agenda of fewer regulations and tax breaks did well in several bills throughout the session.

Gun owners: Several laws favored by the National Rifle Association became law. The final piece – allowing those with permits to carry concealed weapons to bring them to restaurants that serve alcohol – didn’t make the cut, however.

Rep. Paul “Skip” Stam: The Apex Republican and House majority leader had his own agenda and checked off most of its items, including promoting social legislation that made it more difficult to get abortions and a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

ALEC: The American Legislative Exchange Council, a free-market advocacy organization, drafts laws for legislatures around the country to copy. After a boot camp for N.C. lawmakers last year, it saw versions of several bills it championed get approved, including medical malpractice limits. ALEC received bad press this year for its stand-your-ground gun law after the Trayvon Martin shooting in Florida; subsequently, numerous corporate members left the organization.

Roadside maintenance and utility crews: These workers received a new safety shield when the legislature added them to the protective umbrella of North Carolina’s Move Over Law. The law tells drivers to change lanes or slow down when they pass law enforcement and emergency workers on the highway shoulder.

Losers

UNC system: UNC’s big push to get its own personnel system didn’t go anywhere.

Eugenics victims: House Speaker Thom Tillis’ commitment to compensate victims at $50,000 each went nowhere in the Senate.

Trial lawyers and injured patients: Lawmakers made it harder to sue for medical malpractice.

Environment: GOP lawmakers said they were getting rid of unnecessary layers of bureaucracy, but environmentalists say protections to air, land and water were weakened.

Rep. Paul “Skip” Stam: The GOP leader wasn’t able to get a bill allowing corporations to get tax credits for donations to private schools through his own House. The question is whether he alienated his colleagues, hurting chances for a future run at House speaker.

By the numbers

44 Number of demonstrations, rallies and press conferences on the sidewalk at the Legislative Building

24 Number of arrests in Legislative Building

136 Days in session as of June 29

960 Bills filed in Senate

1,234 Bills filed in House

571 Bills

approved

17 Resolutions passed

8 Number of laws being challenged in court

Did you know …

State butterfly, mullets and livermush: Who can forget the far-reaching Senate Bill 236, approved earlier this month, which established the Eastern Tiger swallowtail as the state’s official butterfly? It also made the Swansboro Mullet Festival the state’s official mullet festival. (That’s a fish, by the way, not a haircut.) And it enabled two state livermush festivals – Shelby in the fall and Marion in the spring.

No, No, No

With a Republican-controlled legislature and a Democratic governor for the first time in our lifetimes, vetoes and overrides were inevitable. GOP House leaders kept half a dozen vetoed bills in a “veto garage,” poised to spring overrides at any time. The governor vetoed two bills last week and was still considering what to do about fracking at press time.

HB 2 Protect Health Care Freedom (opposing the federal Affordable Healthcare Act): Vetoed March 5, 2011.

HB 7 Community Colleges/Opt Out of Federal Loan Program: Vetoed April 13, 2011. Overridden in House June 14, 2012, and Senate June 18, 2012.

HB 200 Appropriations Act of 2011 (budget bill): Vetoed June 6, 2011. Overridden June 15, 2011.

HB 351 Restore Confidence in Government (require photo ID at polling places): Vetoed June 23, 2011.

HB 383 Extend Unemployment Benefits/Continuing Resolution (tied benefits to governor supporting the GOP budget): Vetoed April 16, 2011.

HB 482 Water Supply Lines/Water Violation Waivers (a local issue over water quality requirements): Vetoed June 27, 2011.

HB 854 Abortion/Woman’s Right to Know Act (ultrasound exams for women seeking abortions): Vetoed June 27, 2011. Overridden July 28, 2011.

SB 9 No Discriminatory Purpose in Death Penalty (ending the Racial Justice Act): Vetoed Dec. 12, 2011.

SB 13 Balanced Budget Act of 2011(taking economic-development funds from governor): Vetoed Feb. 22, 2011.

SB 33 Medical Liability Reforms (restrictions on malpractice lawsuits): Vetoed June 24, 2011. Overridden July 25, 2011.

SB 265 State Health Plan/Appropriations and Transfer (require state employees pay premiums): Vetoed April 13, 2011.

SB 496 Medicaid and Health Choice Provider Requirements (administrative law judges’ final say in disputes with state health department): Vetoed June 30, 2011. Overridden July 25, 2011.

SB 532 Employment Security Commission/Jobs Reform (unemployment insurance changes): Vetoed June 30, 2011. Overridden July 26, 2011.

SB 709 Energy Jobs Act (encourage fracking and require interstate compact): Vetoed June 30, 2011.

SB 727 No Dues Checkoff for School Employees: Vetoed June 18, 2011. Overridden in Senate July 13, 2011, House Jan. 5, 2012.

SB 781 Regulatory Reform Act of 2011 (easing environmental protections): Vetoed June 30, 2011. Overridden July 25, 2011.

SB 416 Racial Justice Act: Vetoed June 28, 2012

HB 950 Modify 201 Appropriations Act (the state budget): Vetoed June 29, 2012

Parting is such sweet sorrow

This is the last session for many area lawmakers who were either defeated, chose not to run again because of redistricting, ran for higher office or had just had enough. Among those heading out the door from the Triangle: Reps. Joe Hackney, D-Orange; Jennifer Weiss, D-Wake; Grier Martin, D-Wake; and Bill Faison, D-Orange; Glen Bradley, R-Franklin; and Sens. Richard Stevens, R-Wake; and David Rouzer, R-Johnston.

Next year?

Tax reform – Overhauling the state tax code is the big item on the 2013 agenda.

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service