Legislative roundup

Legislative roundup: Repeal of Jordan Lake cleanup rules advances

Republicans say lake is ‘impaired’ and rules only hobble developers

cjarvis@newsobserver.comMay 15, 2013 

The full Senate on Wednesday approved a bill repealing measures to clean up Jordan Lake that have been in place for several years.

Republicans said the measures haven’t improved water quality at the lake, but Democrats argued the environmental rules haven’t been in place long enough to work.

The measure cleared the crossover deadline – on a 31-16 vote – in time to be considered by the House this session. The bill moved quickly, appearing in a committee for the first time Tuesday.

The bill would create a study committee of legislators drawing on technical expertise at the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources as well as independent experts, to come up with recommendations for new rules next year. The new rules would focus on treating the lake itself rather than upstream sources such as development, agricultural pesticides and wastewater from cities.

Bill sponsor Sen. Rick Gunn, a Republican from Burlington, pointed out that the lake has had water-quality problems since it was impounded in 1983. He said efforts to improve upstream sources of pollution have made it hard on developers and municipalities.

“We were dealt a bad hand by the Corps of Engineers,” Gunn said. “We got handed an impaired lake. I mean, this thing is very impaired. Hundreds of millions of dollars later we have no improvement.”

Freshman Sen. Mike Woodard, a Democrat from Durham, called it “a specious argument.” The former Durham City Council member said that city has successfully been working with developers to come up with viable projects that still protect the lake’s watershed.

“It’s going to take time,” Woodard said.

He said the state risked the federal Environmental Protection Agency taking away the state’s permitting authority, which would make it harder on developers.

Staff writer Craig Jarvis

Democrats mount late effort to stop civil service bill

Democratic lawmakers Wednesday tried to fight legislation backed by Gov. Pat McCrory to curb civil service protections for state employees – a day after they missed the bill on the calendar and inadvertently voted to give it preliminary approval.

House Bill 834 received a 110-5 vote Tuesday. But Democrats mounted an effort to amend the measure Wednesday, trying to limit the number of political appointments the governor’s office can make for state positions, and add protections for workers who are cut under a reorganization plan.

All failed. But the final vote to approve the bill was much closer at 74-40. A Democratic lawmaker said critics didn’t realize what the bill did when they voted for it a day earlier. Dana Cope, head of the State Employees Association of North Carolina, had explained the lopsided vote by saying that the group had not asked Democratic lawmakers to fight it because the group still had hopes of getting some concessions in the Senate.

Staff writer John Frank

Senate approves bill to lift restrictions on jetties

The Senate passed a bill, 36-11, which does away with restrictions on terminal groins, the jetties that protect inlets and properties on the coast. The state hasn’t allowed the structures because they interrupt the natural movement of sand on the beaches, and can damage one piece of property over another and increase erosion.

Two years ago, lawmakers passed legislation that allowed four groins to be built as a test. None has been built, but Senate Bill 151 removes the cap and many of the safeguards, including provisions designed to keep coastal communities from incurring debt for the groins without voter approval. It also removes fiscal protections for neighboring properties that would have compensated them for any ensuing damage.

Staff writer Mary Cornatzer

House OKs crackdown on human trafficking

The House unanimously approved a bill further cracking down on human trafficking, following similar legislation in the Senate, including a bill that the governor signed last month requiring those convicted of that offense to register as sex offenders.

House Bill 855, sponsored by Rep. Jacqueline Schaffer, a Republican from Charlotte, amends the current legal definition of an abused juvenile to include one who is the victim of human trafficking, involuntary servitude or sexual servitude. It also would prevent someone charged with those crimes from using as a defense the fact that the juvenile consented or that the defendant was mistaken about the juvenile’s age.

People convicted of those crimes would have to pay restitution to the victim. The bill would protect minors from being prosecuted for prostitution in a human trafficking case, and require the state Board of Education to provide to local school boards educational material about human trafficking.

Earlier in the day, a House judiciary subcommittee passed the bill after hearing from a young woman who said she was the victim of trafficking – a man with control over her subjected her to rape and to participation in pornography when she was 16 – in Greensboro. The woman also spoke to a Senate committee earlier this month.

Staff writer Craig Jarvis

House approves protections for farm, forestry operations

Legislation that would protect farms or forestry operations from lawsuits by neighbors who think they’re a nuisance cleared the House 112-1 Wednesday.

It says that agricultural or forestry operations that have been working for more than a year cannot be deemed a nuisance unless there has been a fundamental change. Fundamental changes would not include a change in ownership or size, a change in the type of product produced, employing a new technology or temporarily ceasing operation.

Earlier in the day, a House subcommittee deleted a provision that would have allowed the winner in a lawsuit to recover costs of the legal action. Democratic lawyers on the committee said that would run contrary to established state law and would have a chilling effect on people’s access to the courts.

Staff writer Craig Jarvis

Measure prohibits illegal immigrants from having guns

The House passed a bill 84-28 that would make it a crime for illegal immigrants to possess firearms in North Carolina. Anyone not in the country lawfully would be guilty of a felony under House Bill 465.

The bill allows law enforcement to seize weapons from someone who they have probable cause to believe is an illegal alien.

Staff writer Craig Jarvis

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