2009 General Assembly Session Wrap-Up
Family North Carolina MagazineFall 2009
By Brittany Farrell
Within a week of completing a grueling budget negotiation, the North Carolina General Assembly adjourned its 2009 Legislative Session on August 11. The final week was filled with long and intense days that saw 62 measures acted on in just the final two days. As a result, House and Senate members were scrambling to get their bills heard in committee and past the floor of their respective chambers in order to beat the deadline and get their bills passed or keep them alive for consideration in 2010.
Of the more than 2700 bills introduced, 577 were enacted during this six-month session. The following is a summary of the status of select bills of interest. It is important to note that while legislation may appear to be “dead” because it did not get passed during the “long” session, no legislation is truly dead until the legislature adjourns the two-year session “sine die” some time next year.
ADOPTION: The Senate postponed consideration on HB 1463Expand Access/Confidential Intermediaries until May 2010 after the controversial nature of the bill came to light during the last week of session. HB 1463 sailed easily through the House, but stalled in a Senate committee over concerns that it would eliminate closed adoptions in North Carolina and breach the existing understanding of confidentiality of mothers who had chosen closed adoptions in the past.
BUDGET: The big news each odd-numbered year is the passage of a constitutionally-mandated balanced budget. This difficult process was exacerbated by this year’s economic downturn that brought larger than expected decreases in tax revenue, creating a budget shortfall that some stated to be as much as $4 billion. Legislators plugged part of the “hole” in a $19 billion budget using federal stimulus dollars, budget cuts, and almost $1 billion in tax increases. The tax package includes a one cent increase in the state sales tax, making North Carolina’s sales tax the fourth highest in the country. Cigarettes, liquor, and beer will all be taxed at higher rates. Individuals making at least $60,000, and married couples making at least $100,000 will now pay an additional 2 or 3 percent surcharge tax on their tax bill at the end of the year.
Charter Schools - This year, North Carolina’s cap on charter schools hurt our application for federal stimulus dollars for education. Both President Barack Obama and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan encouraged states to raise or eliminate caps on charter schools. At least eight bills were introduced in the General Assembly to do just that, but none were passed. HB 856Modify Charter School Law passed the House, but was never considered by the Senate. The bill would have raised the cap by six chartersto 106in exchange for imposing new burdensome regulations on charter schools that many argue could stifle or possibly eliminate the ability to open new charter schools in the state.
Vouchers/Tax Credits - North Carolina continues to inhibit school choice. HB 335Tax Fairness in Education would have introduced a tax credit for those parents who save the state money by incurring the total cost of their child’s education through private school tuition. It was never considered. While states like Ohio and Oklahoma enjoy unprecedented success with tax credits for special needs students to attend private schools, the House Education Committee rejected HB 687Tax Credits for Children with Disabilities. Research by legislative staff found that such a tax credit would have saved the public schools money in a year when budgets were in dire need of trimming to stay balanced.
LIFE: The news regarding pro-life legislation is what did not pass. Neither chamber took any action on legislation to ensure complete and accurate information for women seeking an abortion. A number of bills aimed at affording the most basic rights and protections to unborn children were again ignored. The following bills received no consideration during the 2009 session:
HB 168/SB 210“Choose Life” Special Plate would have made available a voluntary specialty license plate with a positive pro-life message as one of the more than 135 specialty plates available in North Carolina.
Conscience Protections Two bills to expand the state’s existing conscience protection clause died without a committee hearing. HB 397Conscience Protection/Contraceptive Coverage sought to protect the right of health insurers, employers, or associations to exclude coverage for contraceptives or abortions when such coverage violates “the religious beliefs or moral convictions of the insurer, employers, association, or insured individual.” HB 432Conscience Protection/Health Care Providers would have added pharmacists and health care providers to the list of medical professionals who could not be compelled to assist in any type of abortive action if they object “on moral, ethical or religious grounds.”
Informed Consent Two bills sought to ensure that women seeking abortions receive complete and accurate information, including their child’s gestational age. HB 891Ultrasound Before an Abortion would also require an ultrasound at least one hour before an abortion and that the mother be offered an opportunity to view the ultrasound, except in medical emergencies. HB 1044Abortion-Woman’s Right to Know would require abortionists to provide to all potential patients at least 24 hours prior to an abortion the performing physician’s name and any insurance liabilities, medical risks of the procedure or of carrying the child to term, available public assistance, and child support requirements.
Unborn Rights Two bills sought to afford legal protections to unborn children who are victims of violent crime or who survive an abortion attempt. HB 890Unborn Victims of Violence Act would establish criminal offenses for violent crimes that kill or injure an unborn child. HB 895Born Alive Infant Protection Act would amend the definition of “person” in the statutes to include children who survive an abortion attempt. Neither bill received any consideration.
SB 1039/HB 1420State Health Plan/No Abortion Coverage would prohibit the State health plan for teachers and state employees from paying for “medical or surgical abortion procedures.”
SB 440Establish Gestational Surrogacy Agreements sought to legalize the sale of human children and potentially exploit poor women by establishing a framework for contracts between married couples and women who agree to be a surrogate for a pregnancy. See Mary Summa’s article on the subject on page 8 for more on this issue.
GAMBLING: The legislature took very little action on any bills dealing with either the private or state-run gambling industry this session. All of the following legislation failed.
HB 1289Lottery-No Check Cashing Sites/High Sch. Ads. was approved by a three to one margin in the House to prohibit the sale of lottery tickets at businesses that primarily cash checks. However, the Senate narrowly rejected an amended version that would have also prohibited lottery advertising at high school sporting events.
HB 1156English Only Lottery Materials would have required that lottery materials only be available in English, in keeping with an existing statutory prohibition against advertisement targeting.
HB 1537Video Gaming Entertainment Act to legalize video poker in the state received vocal support from the State Employees Association and the Legislative Black Caucus. Because of this new push, many were surprised at the lack of action taken on HB 1277Ban Server-Based Video Poker and HB 1418Reaffirm Opposition to Video Poker, both of which sought to bolster the current statutory prohibition on the practice in light of a recent court ruling which challenges the existing statute.
MARRIAGE: Marriage has been under attack in recent sessions, and 2009 was no different.
Alienation of Affection/Criminal Conversation Attempts to abolish these torts, which allow a spouse to sue a third party who commits adultery with their mate or intentionally alienates their affections, were once again unsuccessful with the failure of HB 1123Abolish Alienation of Affection/Criminal Conversation. However, HB 1110Clarify/Alienation of Affection/Criminal Conversation, which limits these tort actions to acts committed prior to separation, did pass. While the final vote was not considered close, an amendment to preserve more of the existing law and limit the impact of the bill failed by a single vote in the Senate.
Authority to Solemnize Marriages The legislature added superior court judges to the limited list of religious representatives and government officials authorized to perform marriages in the state with the passage of HB 494Superior Court Judge May Perform Marriage. However, an attempt to extend the same authority to mayors was thwarted by a House committee vote to kill SB 992Authorize Mayors to Solemnize Marriage.
Marriage Protection Amendment - For a sixth consecutive year, and despite increased court interference in state marriage statutes, the leadership of the General Assembly staunchly refused to entertain any discussion on HB 361 or SB 272Defense of Marriage. These bills would allow North Carolina voters to amend the state constitution to include the definition of marriage as only between a man and woman, so as to place the definition beyond the reach of activist courts and legislatures. According to SB 1109Adjournment Resolution, which establishes guidelines to legislation that may be considered during the 2010 “Short” Session, constitutional amendments are allowed. That means North Carolinians can expect more than a majority of legislators to introduce a Marriage Protection Amendment in May 2010.
PARENTAL RIGHTS: Parental rights legislation saw little to no action this session.
Abortion - Neither chamber considered HB 431Abortion-Parental Consent Notarized or SB 236Notarized Consent for Minor’s Abortion, which would require that parental consent for a minor to obtain an abortion, which is currently required, be notarized to avoid forgery.
The House approved HB 442Parental Involvement in School Discipline to give all parents of public school children the option of prohibiting the use of corporal punishment on their child. The Senate rejected the bill.
The House Judiciary III committee stopped efforts to strip parents of their Supreme Court-recognized right to “make decisions concerning the care, custody, and control of their children” by voting against HB 590Study Grandparents’ Visitation Rights.
SEXUALITY: Arguably, the two biggest blows to pro-family efforts in the legislature were approval of HB 88Healthy Youth Act and SB 526School Violence Prevention Act. Both measures change the standard of education related to acceptable sexual activity among adolescents in the state.
HB 88 Narrow approval of HB 88 amended North Carolina’s Abstinence-Until-Marriage (AUM) sex education requirement for public schools. After going through numerous and wide-ranging variations, the final bill instituted an amended AUM program that requires more classroom discussion of all 18 contraceptives approved by the FDA and gives tremendous leeway to local school boards to expand on the program without parental input that was previously required. See Alysse ElHage’s article on page 22 for a breakdown of this legislation.
Bullying - After two years of failed efforts, the pro-homosexual lobby and legislative contingency managed to pass SB 526 with a tie-breaking vote cast by House Speaker Joe Hackney. This so-called “Bullying Bill” used bullying in schools as the mechanism by which to introduce the terms “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” into state law for the first time. Sponsors refused to accept versions of the bill that did not include a clause enumerating specific characteristics of students that could motivate acts of bullying and harassment, including “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.” A more general bill that was sponsored by over half the House members and would protect all children from all bullyingHB 776No Bullying Anyone at Public Schoolswas never considered by committee. Interestingly, HB 1261Protect Our Kids/Cyber Bullying Misdemeanor received a great deal of work in the Senate Judiciary II committee before finally being passed with language similar to the bullying bill, but noticeably lacking an enumerated list of possible victims.
Sexuality - Other efforts to introduce the same protections and recognition sought in the Bullying Bill all stalled in committee. HB 207Safer Communities Act, HB 1049Nondiscrimination in State/Teacher EMP, and SB 843Nondiscrimination in State Employment did not receive consideration and died. HB 100Conform State Law to Lawrence v. Texas, which would have legalized private consensual sodomy in North Carolina also died in a House committee.
When election time rolls around, the talk from incumbents more often than not centers on legislation they helped to get passed, but the real news out of the North Carolina General Assembly most years is what bills are left untouched. The 2009 Regular Session is no exception. While legislators and journalists focus on major pieces of controversial legislation like the budget, smoking ban, and bullying bill, pro-family North Carolinians can learn a lot about the priorities and efforts of their representatives by wading through the graveyard of killed bills.
To be clear, many of the pro-family bills ignored in 2009 were not rejected by a majority of House members. Many, in fact, garnered both Republican and Democrat sponsors. Many good bills received zero discussion, let alone a vote at even the lowest level of the legislative process. The leadership of both the House and Senate chambers, and of the committees to which most of these bills were assigned were clear in their purposeful intent to disallow consideration of solid pro-family legislation.
Brittany Farrell is a research associate at the North Carolina Family Policy Council and is editor of Family North Carolina magazine.
Copyright © 2009. North Carolina Family Policy Council. All rights reserved.