State Politics

June 17, 2014

NC legislative roundup: Coal ash plan clears Senate panel; other bills advance

The North Carolina Senate's agriculture and environment committee endorsed a measure Tuesday to close Duke Energy's 33 coal ash ponds despite Duke's plea that the 15-year timeline might be too short. Other bills involving gun laws and education rules also advanced while a Department of Commerce finance bill stalled.

The Senate’s agriculture and environment committee endorsed a measure Tuesday to close Duke Energy’s 33 coal ash ponds despite Duke’s plea that the 15-year timeline might be too short.

The committee gave the bill a favorable report on a unanimous voice vote. It goes to the Senate finance committee on Wednesday and appropriations on Thursday.

George Everett, Duke’s environmental and legislative affairs director, warned the agriculture committee that Duke might not be able to close all its ponds by the three deadlines – 2019, 2024 and 2029 – that the bill sets.

He asked that legislators revisit the timelines once hazard ratings have been applied to the ponds, due in August 2015.

Sen. Tom Apodaca, the Hendersonville Republican guiding the legislation, stood by the deadlines.

“I have found in my life that I get more things done when I have a tight timeline,” he said. “I think you probably have four sites that you could start clearing out today.”

A companion bill is before the House environment committee on Thursday.

Bruce Henderson, Charlotte Observer

Gun bill is just that

Sometimes a bill is just a bill.

On Tuesday, eyes were on an obscure bill that crossed over from the Senate last year and popped up in a House Rules Committee meeting. That combination often transforms a bill into a vehicle for something else entirely.

But Senate Bill 226 was just what it started out as: a bill to repeal a nearly 80-year-old firearm registration law that only exists in Durham County.

The 1935 Durham County Firearm Act required guns to be registered with the county clerk of court. The act was aimed at violence around “shot houses” – illegal liquor establishments. Violations were misdemeanors.

Sen. Mike Woodard, a Durham Democrat who sponsored the repeal, said there were concerns that the law was selectively enforced in minority neighborhoods.

Woodard successfully moved the bill through the Senate last year, but it died in the House.

On Tuesday, after pressure from anti-gun control group Grass Roots North Carolina, Rules chairman Rep. Tim Moore of Kings Mountain allowed a vote in committee and the legislation passed unanimously. Next stop: the House floor.

Staff writer Craig Jarvis

Bill aids campus groups

Political and religious groups on North Carolina’s public higher education campuses would be in charge of their internal affairs in legislation making its way through the General Assembly.

The Senate bill recommended Tuesday by a House committee comes as Christian groups in other states are no longer recognized college organizations because their doctrines clash with university policy. The proposal says an organization can decide that only people professing its faith or mission and who act in that manner can be leaders.

Sen. Dan Soucek, a Boone Republican, says some students fear compromising beliefs to get group recognition. Lawmakers opposed to the bill say students should have to abide by campus regulations. The bill next goes to the full House.

The Associated Press

Film money could cause trouble

Differences between House and Senate bills that would create a private marketing enterprise within the state Department of Commerce will be hashed out another day.

The Senate Finance Committee approved the House version of the bill, with the understanding that it would be modified before it reaches the appropriations committee.

There are a number of differences between the two proposals, but the big stumbling block is a Senate provision that would replace film industry incentives with a grant program.

Sen. Harry Brown, a Republican from Jacksonville, told the committee that adding the film grants to the House bill would probably doom it.

He said he needed to talk with some of the interested parties to figure out what changes might be needed.

Rep. Tom Murry, a Republican from Cary who is sponsoring the House version, said he still wants a bill that only focuses on the public-private partnership and doesn’t include the film provision. The House budget contains a film grant program similar to the Senate proposal.

Staff writer Craig Jarvis

Charter bill heads to House

Senators unanimously approved a bill Tuesday that creates a fast-track review process for charter school chains and existing schools that want to replicate success.

The bill, which now goes to the House, also clarifies that the independent public schools must comply with public records and open meeting laws.

The pace of North Carolina’s charter school expansion has upset supporters. After lifting the 100-school cap in 2011, the state Board of Education approved 23 new schools to open in 2013 and 27 in 2014.

Alan Hawkes, an advisory board member from Greensboro appointed by Senate leader Phil Berger, rebuked his colleagues, saying GOP leaders want to see “operators come into the state like they did in Louisiana and other states and quickly affect the public school choice landscape.” Hawkes is a board member of two Guilford County charter schools run by the for-profit National Heritage Academies.

If the House approves the bill, the Board of Education must create the process by December.

Ann Doss Helms, Charlotte Observer

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