Failed Bills in 2009 Tell Bigger Story
Special Report - August 14, 2009
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 contraversial 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.
In May, the North Carolina Family Policy Council summed up the first half of session through the artificial “crossover” deadline. Bills without any financial impact that had not been passed by the chamber in which they were originally introduced by May 14 were effectively “dead” for the remainder of 2009 and 2010 with a few notable exceptions that we will address later. There is an enormous over-representation of pro-life legislation left in the heap of bills killed by crossover. Bills to require natarization of parental consent for minors seeking an abortion, medically accurate information be provided to women considering an abortion, conscience protections for health care providers, pharmacists, and employer provided insurance, and explicit codification of the rights of children who survive an abortion or whose mothers are criminally injured during pregnancy received not so much as a single committee hearing between them at any point during the six and a half month long legislative session. Because no such pro-life legislation survived crossover, it cannot be considered when the General Assembly reconvenes in May 2010 for the “Short Session,” so it will be January 2011 before an opportunity for pro-life progress reemerges.
To be clear, these bills were not rejected by a majority of House members. Many, in fact, garnered both Republican and Democrat sponsors. Not a single one of the aforementioned bills received any discussion, let alone a vote at even the lowest level of the legislative process. The leadership of both the House and Senate chambers and powerful committees to which most of these bills were assigned are clear in their purposeful intent to disallow consideration on any pro-life legislation under their regimes.
One pro-life item remains eligible for consideration, though. HB 168/SB 210“Choose Life” Special Plate would establish a voluntary specialty license plate for motorists to choose at an increased fee that expresses the pro-life message to “Choose Life.” The additional fee charged for the plate would help to finance crisis pregnancy care centers around the state. For eight years, the legislature has approved specialty license plates to the tune of more than 120 being currently available to North Carolina motorists while all the while refusing to even hear debate on the “Choose Life” plate. Because the plate includes an increased license plate fee, it remains eligible for consideration through the 2010 session.
The current atmosphere in the legislature is indifferent, if not hostile, to promoting more parental choice in education. This year, as legislators scrambled to close an unexpectedly large budget gap resulting from the lagging economy, North Carolina’s cap on the number of charter schools allowed in the state placed us at a disadvantage for receiving federal stimulus dollars for education. Both President Barack Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan unequivocally encouraged states to raise or eliminate caps on charter schools. At least eight bills were introduced in the General Assembly to do just that. None were passed. HB 856Modify Charter School Law managed to pass the House, but was never considered by the Senate. The bill is a mixed bag. In exchange for raising the cap by a mere six charters, it would impose new burdensome regulations on charter schools that many argue could stifle or possibly eliminate the ability to open new charter schools in the state.
North Carolina continues to leave parents and students who opt out of the public school system out in the cold. 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 are experiencing unprecedented success with programs offering tax credits for special needs students to attend private schools, the House Education Committee rejected HB 687Tax Credits for Children with Disabilities. That vote was surprising because 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.
Dispersion of lottery funds to schools has been a point of contention ever since the lottery was enacted in 2005. About 14 cents of every dollar spent on the lottery is dedicated to school construction. Sixty-five percent of these funds are distributed to traditional public schools on an Average Daily Membership (ADM) or per pupil basis, while the remaining 35 percent is disproportionately distributed to the 50 counties in the state with a higher than average county tax rate. HB 352/SB 2Lottery School Capital Fund Formula would have required that lottery revenues be distributed statewide according to ADM. The bill never received a hearing in committee.
Two bills introduced this session would have further regulated lottery advertising. Both were fought by the lottery commission as hinderances to their ability to adequately entice people to play the lottery. While the lottery statute specifically prohibits lottery advertising from intentionally targeting “specific groups or economic classes,” the lottery commission began advertising in Spanish in Spring of 2009 to tap into North Carolina’s large and growing Hispanic community. HB 1156English Only Lottery Materials sought to bolster the current law by requiring lottery advertisements and promotions to be only in English. The bill never got a hearing in committee. Additionally, HB 1289Lottery-No Check Cashing Sites/High Sch. Ads would have prohibited the sale of lottery tickets at businesses whose primary revenue comes from “the cashing of checks, drafts or money orders” and prohibited lottery advertising in connection with high school sports. HB 1289 managed to pass the House before being narrowly defeated on the Senate floor.
With the exception of the lottery, the legislature has taken a strong stance against legalized gambling in the state. However, this year, 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.
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 choose whether to include the definition of marriage as being between a man and woman in the state’s Constitution, so as to be out of the reach of activist courts. According to SB 1109Adjournment Resolution, which establishes guidelines to legislation that may be considered during the 2010 Short Session of the legislature, constitutional amendments are fair game. That means North Carolinians can expect the majority of pro-family legislators to introduce a Marriage Protection Amendment for a seventh year.
Copyright © 2009. North Carolina Family Policy Council. All rights reserved.