Legislative Roundup

Democrats raise concern over college acts of controversial nominee

cjarvis@newsobserver.comJune 11, 2014 

A controversial nomination by Gov. Pat McCrory to the state Industrial Commission was approved by a Senate committee on Wednesday, in a brief but tense meeting.

Charlton Allen, a lawyer from Mooresville, answered sharp questions from Democrats on the committee, whose earlier concerns about his political sentiments were amped up Wednesday by a story in The Independent raising questions about his behavior on racial issues while a student at UNC-Chapel Hill in the 1990s.

Allen acknowledged that as a student he was part of a group of campus conservatives who dressed in Arab costumes and threw water balloons at an anti-war protest. The Independent story also said a publication that Allen founded on campus challenged the construction of a black cultural center, and published a cover photo that depicted a Jewish candidate for student body president with horns and a pitchfork. A story about the candidate, Aaron Nelson, said, “The difference with Nelson is simple. He’s Jewish.” The chancellor censured the publication.

Democrats have been concerned that the position on the Industrial Commission he is nominated for is reserved for someone representing employees and that he wouldn’t have that perspective.

Committee Chairman Sen. Wesley Meredith, a Republican from Fayetteville, intervened several times to shield Allen from questions. Allen defended his college behavior saying: “In UNC-Chapel Hill, if you were a conservative, you were an endangered species, in many respects.”

He called the article “grossly unfair” and said it “mischaracterized” him.

He also said the questions that have been raised about him are irrelevant to how he would serve on the commission, promising to be fair and balanced. He said he would set aside his political beliefs to interpret the law.

“We don’t need to have commissioners who are creating the law,” Allen said.

Far less time was spent on the noncontroversial nomination of Linda Morrison Combs to be the state controller. She is a former controller of the United States, and worked in the administrations of three presidents. Both have been confirmed by the House.

Senate votes to restrict product lawsuits

The day after a Senate judiciary committee eliminated two controversial provisions from a bill on lawsuits – affecting liability claims against drug manufacturers, and restricting suits for asbestos exposure – the full Senate restored new versions of the provisions and passed the bill.

One new provision of Senate Bill 648 would set a higher threshold for people suing drug manufacturers. Plaintiffs would have to show that it was more likely than not that the company failed to warn people about a risk. Sen. Tamara Barringer, a Republican from Cary, came up with that provision.

The other new part of the bill, written by Sen. Bob Rucho, a Republican from Matthews, would set a deadline after which legal claims couldn’t be filed against a company that bought or merged with another company that once produced asbestos products. There is at least one such company in North Carolina: Crown, Cork & Seal, which never produced the toxic material but purchased a company that made insulation products.

That provision passed with opposition from Republican and Democratic senators who are also lawyers. The bill now goes to the House.

McCrory signs ‘Read to Achieve’

Changes to the state’s “Read to Achieve” program are now law. Gov. Pat McCrory signed the bill Wednesday. He thanked lawmakers for listening to the feedback of parents, educators and policy advisers.

Parents had complained that the program, which is designed to ensure that third-graders are reading at grade level, required too much testing. The original bill called for students who didn’t pass an end-of-grade reading test to attend a six week summer reading camp or be held back a year. The law now requires a 72-hour intensive reading camp or for the student to be held back a year. It also allows schools some flexibility on testing and using alternative methods to determine a child’s reading ability.

A possum will drop

Brasstown would be permitted to have its New Year’s Eve possum drop, under a local bill the Senate approved Wednesday that will become law.

House Bill 1131, sponsored by Rep. Roger West, a Republican who represents that part of the mountains, wrote the bill because of ongoing legal wrangling between the state and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. It passed 45-4.

“It’s a continuation of Clay County wanting to coddle North Carolina’s favorite marsupial,” said Sen. Jim Davis, a Republican from Franklin.

The bill exempts only a specific, indigenous opossum in Clay County from state wildlife laws for the period each year between Dec. 26 and Jan. 2. It is retroactive to last New Year’s Eve, in order to resolve issues raised in a PETA lawsuit that sought to prevent the event last year.

Is the end in sight?

The Senate leadership on Wednesday filed a joint resolution setting adjournment of the session on June 27.

The resolution calls for adjournment “sine die,” which means the General Assembly would leave town without a return date established. That would bring an end to the 2013-14 session. Of course, that’s still subject to change.

More bills headed to Senate

Other bills headed to the Senate floor include:

• SB 815, which would required the State Board of Education to create a public inventory used for reporting student data, and inform parents and students who are at least 18 that they can opt out of certain surveys. Rules would also be developed to comply with state and federal privacy laws.

• SB 853, which updates rules governing business courts. A late amendment to the bill would create a three-judge panel that would hear constitutional challenges to laws the General Assembly passes. Identical language is in another Senate bill and in the Senate’s budget; sponsors say that is to ensure that it is passed this session.

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