Legislative roundup

Senate approves bill that expands public places where guns OK

From Staff ReportsJune 13, 2013 

The Senate tentatively approved a major gun-rights bill on Wednesday, which would repeal the requirement that county sheriffs issue pistol purchase permits and expand the public places where those with concealed-weapons permits can bring their firearms.

Final approval of House Bill 937 is expected Thursday, and then the bill returns to the House with a major rewrite. It isn’t known how the House will view the changes.

Sen. Buck Newton, a Republican from Wilson, said the system of sheriffs issuing permits is outdated and inconsistent. He said the current law has no mechanism for revoking the five-year permits if a permit-holder subsequently commits a crime that would have disqualified them from receiving one.

Newton, in an interview after the session, said it makes more sense to do away with that system altogether and strengthen reporting requirements to the federal Instant Criminal Background Check database. The bill includes provisions for more prompt reporting to the federal system.

The national system only applies to handguns purchased from federally licensed firearms dealers, such as gun shops, and not other private transactions. Attorney General Roy Cooper Jr. says that will make it easier for those with criminal records, domestic violence abusers and the mentally ill to obtain handguns.

The bill would also increase penalties on some gun crimes. It expands to bars, parks, parades and funerals the places where people with concealed-carry permits can bring their weapons, and it allows them to keep their guns locked in their vehicles on any school property, although private schools can prohibit them.

The 32-16 vote was along party lines.

“This bill is overreaching and distinctly out of touch with the citizens of North Carolina,” said Sen. Ellie Kinnaird, a Democrat from Chapel Hill. “We all know guns and alcohol don’t mix.”

Staff writer Craig Jarvis

Senate will vote on tax bill Thursday

The North Carolina Senate is advancing a tax overhaul that repeals corporate income taxes without a major expansion of sales taxes.

The bill that the Senate Finance Committee endorsed Wednesday also lowers income rates and repeals local sales taxes on food. The chamber’s first plan lowered rates on corporations but greatly expanded sales taxes.

Critics argue billions in tax cuts will largely benefit the wealthy and force local governments to raise property taxes to recoup lost revenue.

The sponsor of the Senate’s first tax overhaul proposal said the new plan isn’t true reform because it doesn’t add more sales taxes for services.

Backers of the plan point to analysis that shows the state would become far more attractive to business.

The bill is expected to reach the Senate floor Thursday.

The Associated Press

Senate displeased with House rewrite of fracking bill

House lawmakers’ approach to fracking met with blunt resistance in the Senate on Wednesday, where a vote to concur with House changes to Senate Bill 76 was trounced by a vote of 8-41.

“The House has done a remarkable number on 76,” said Republican Sen. Buck Newton of Wilson. “There are quite a few changes that we need to talk about.”

Earlier this month the House rewrote the Senate bill to keep in place a moratorium on shale gas exploration at least until March 2015 and include a number of public protections and environmental safeguards.

Staff writer Craig Jarvis

RJA repeal headed to McCrory

Legislation repealing the state’s Racial Justice Act cleared the Senate on Wednesday and is headed to the governor. If enacted, it would restart executions in North Carolina.

Senate Democrats repeated arguments they have fruitlessly made over the past couple of years as Republicans sought to dismantle the act, which allows death-row inmates to try to convert their sentences to life in prison without parole if they can prove racial bias in their cases.

“In my mind it’s really a sad, shameful day for North Carolina,” said Sen. Floyd McKissick, a Durham Democrat who was one of the authors of the 2009 law.

Sen. Thom Goolsby, a Wilmington Republican, said the law was poorly written and has allowed murderers to flood the courts with appeals and create what amounts to a moratorium on the death penalty.

The Senate voted 33-16 on the bill.

Staff writer Craig Jarvis

GOP blocks effort to continue federal benefits

Senate Republicans blocked an attempt by Democrats Wednesday to keep extended federal unemployment benefits flowing to the state’s long-term unemployed.

Senate Minority Leader Martin Nesbitt of Asheville proposed an amendment to a technical bill on unemployment that would have changed the effective date of the state’s new unemployment law to Jan. 1, 2014. That change would have allowed the extended federal benefits to continue. They’re now set to expire on July 1.

The bill, which cuts the amount of benefits and the length of time people can receive them, was signed by Gov. Pat McCrory earlier this year. By not continuing benefits at their current level, the state then became ineligible for the federal emergency funds. Some 70,000 people now receiving benefits are immediately affected and another 90,000, now receiving state benefits won’t have the federal safety net if they can’t get a job soon.

The N.C. AFL-CIO and the N.C. Justice Center issued a joint statement saying they were disappointed, and called the senators “callous.”

“It is still not too late,” the statement says. “We urge legislators to take action before the end of the month to save these benefits.”

Staff writer Craig Jarvis

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