Senate tentatively OKs regulatory overhaul bill

cjarvis@newsobserver.comMay 22, 2014 

— Reducing regulations, cutting out duplicate and outdated provisions, and running over senators who tried to spare environmental safeguards, the state Senate on Thursday approved a lengthy regulatory revamp.

Nearly one-third of the Senate’s Democrats joined Republicans in tentatively passing the bill on a vote of 37-10. It is expected to receive final approval next week, and then go the House.

Republicans batted down five attempts from Democrats to rewrite provisions in the bill. Flexing the GOP’s power in the chamber, Sen. Tom Apodaca, a key Republican from Hendersonville, employed a procedural tactic – substituting his amendments for those offered by Democrats – to kill three of the amendments before they could even be voted on.

“I just want to thank Sen. Apodaca for not fast-tracking things here,” Sen. Tommy Tucker, a Republican from Monroe, said in a joking reference to recent accusations the Senate was moving too fast on fracking.

Sen. Josh Stein, a Democrat from Raleigh, tried to save air monitors that are placed around the state. A provision in the bill would remove all except those required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. That would reduce the number from 133 to 73.

“All these things do is measure how dirty our air is,” Stein said.

Bill sponsor Sen. Trudy Wade, a Republican from Greensboro, said the state would need to conserve resources to meet new EPA requirements, but she didn’t elaborate.

The Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League issued a statement in response to the air-monitoring cuts Thursday. “This is an all-out assault by industry on public health, aided and abetted by the legislature,” spokeswoman Therese Vick said. “It’s unconscionable.”

Sen. Floyd McKissick, a Democrat from Durham, sought to salvage the current process by which legal challenges to air-quality permits put the process on hold until the issues are resolved. The bill would eliminate that delay to prevent what sponsors call frivolous legal actions.

“It’s more likely to result in air quality in North Carolina being compromised,” McKissick said.

McKissick also offered an amendment that would keep energy audits of state government and higher education facilities, which the bill would eliminate.

“It’s amazing to me how many amendments you can offer on a bill you intend to vote against,” Sen. Jerry Tillman, a Republican from Archdale chided the Democratic senators.

Republican leaders have emphasized that the wide-ranging bill cuts out hoops businesses have to jump through.

They also like to say Senate Bill 734 culls obsolete regulations, and there are at least a few, such as those prohibiting cursing on a highway, which was in effect everywhere except Swain and Pitt counties; and requiring callers to relinquish a telephone party line in the event of an emergency.

It also provides broader protection for off-duty medical workers volunteering to help someone, increases penalties for violating endangered plant laws, and raises the fine for unauthorized parking in a handicap space.

Jarvis: 919-829-4576

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