2010 Session Wrap-Up
Special Report - July 13, 2010
At 5:33 a.m. on Saturday, July 10, the North Carolina General Assembly adjourned its eight-week “Short” Session sine die. Notably, for the first time in seven years, the Legislature passed the state’s nearly $19 billion budget before the beginning of the new fiscal year. While the first seven weeks were focused primarily on budget negotiations, there was the usual hectic flurry of activity to pass legislation in the last week of session. Ethics reform, an enhanced prohibition on video gambling, reform of the state’s 75-year old Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) system, and a requirement that people arrested for certain offenses provide a DNA sample to the state were among the plethora of bills passed in the final 72 hours of session. Several bills related to the protection of life, marriage, and educational choice were left untouched yet again.
Both the House and Senate spent ample time during this session working to update the state’s ABC system. HB 1717Modernization of the State ABC System took until the next to last day of session to receive final approval. The bill makes several changes and updates, including setting limits on the salaries of local ABC board members and employees, establishing performance standards for local ABC boards, instituting policies to prevent nepotism, and requiring an ethics policy. See our previous stories here, here, and here for more details on this bill and its history.
The most notable and primary effort of the “Short” Session was to adjust the state budget. SB 897Appropriations Act of 2010 did just that without broad tax increases like those included in last year’s budget, despite lower than expected revenue numbers. Across the board, the budget was filled with cuts, and even those are not expected to prevent a budget shortfall approaching $3 billion in 2011. See our previous story on the budget specifics.
In a frenzy of activity, SB 704Reform Low-Performing Schools received final approval on May 27, just in time for North Carolina to include it in the state’s application for some portion of federal Race to the Top funds for innovation in education. The bill established four options to adjust continually low-performing public schools in the state without addressing the arbitrary cap on charter schools, despite including a model that would allow affected schools to operate as “charter-like” schools. You can read about the debate on this bill in our previous story.
Several bills to raise or eliminate the charter school cap received no consideration. Additionally, HB 1988Tax Fairness in Education, a bill to authorize a tax credit up to $2,500 per year for K-12 students’ education in either a non-public school or a public school that charges tuition, was never considered.
Another last minute bill to receive approval was HB 357School Absence for Religious Holidays, which requires public schools to allow students “two excused absences each academic year for religious observances required by the faith of a student or the student’s parents.”
HB 1726Improve Child Care Nutrition/Activity Standards, which also passed in the final 24 hours of session, earned several nicknames including “The Sippy Cup Bill” because of its nanny-state implications. HB 1726 sets prohibitions on the type of juice (only 100 percent fruit juice), milk (no whole milk for children over age two and no flavored milk at all), quantity (no more than six ounces of juice per day), and serving style (no bottles) allowed in childcare facilities. A last-minute amendment approved by the Senate allows parents to opt their child out of the limitations.
Just after 3 a.m. on July 10, the House gave final approval to HB 961Government Ethics and Campaign Reform Act of 2010. The bill, which was a high priority for both the Governor and the General Assembly, took serious negotiations and cajoling to get passed. HB 961 enhanced the penalties for large illegal campaign donations and requires appointed board and commission members to account for any fundraising activities on behalf of the officials who appointed them. Additionally, it expands the personnel information that must be made public about state employees. While a number of provisions were dropped like limitations on campaign contributions to political parties or political party contributions to candidates, limitations on vendor contributions to candidates running for an office that could award the vendor a contract, and more access to information about the work history of public employees, the positive changes in the bill garnered near unanimous support.
One of the bills considered on the final day of session, HB 748Citizens United Response sought to adjust North Carolina Law to comply with the U.S. Supreme Court Ruling in the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case. Despite assurances by the bill’s handlers that it provided a bipartisan solution, the bill was passed on party-line votes in the wee hours of Saturday morning. Significantly, an amendment to clarify that 501(c)(3) organizations are exempt from the bill’s requirements because they are legally prohibited from engaging in political activity, was opposed by the bill handlers and ultimately defeated along party lines using some quick parliamentary maneuvering.
One of the most important bills to pass this session was HB 80Ban Electronic Sweepstakes, which clarifies that the state’s existing bans on video gambling apply to the newer Internet sweepstakes. Sweepstakes cafes and parlors, which require players to purchase phone or Internet time in order to gain access to games of chance, have been spreading like wildfire throughout the state in the wake of district court rulings which made the legality of the games unclear. Read our previous stories on the bill here and here.
One of the session’s more contentious bills was HB 1403Collect DNA Sample on Arrest, which requires law enforcement to obtain a DNA sample from anyone arrested in connection with a felony charge or select serious misdemeanors such as those related to sexual offenses. The debate over the bill was fierce with opponents arguing it inherently violates the Fourth Amendment. Proponents countered that the requirement only applies in serious criminal cases, and that DNA is nothing more than a 21st Century fingerprint that will help solve unsolved crimes and exonerate wrongly convicted inmates. After days of compromise and debate, the bill, supported intensely by the Attorney General’s office, passed.
After several felons appeared on primary ballots running for sheriff, the General Assembly decided to place the question before the voters by passing HB 1307No Felon as Sheriff. On the November general election ballot, voters will be asked whether the state Constitution should provide “that no person convicted of a felony may serve as Sheriff.”
Despite a rally of more than 100 pro-life citizens in front of the capital building, the General Assembly leadership once again refused to allow consideration of SB 210/HB 168“Choose Life” Special Plate, which would give North Carolina motorists the option of purchasing a “Choose Life” specialty license plate. The funds raised by the sale of the plates would be distributed by the Carolina Pregnancy Care Fellowship to the statewide network of pregnancy resource centers that offer compassionate alternatives to abortion and help for women facing unplanned pregnancies. Read our previous stories about the “Free Speech, Why Not NC” rally here and here.
A house joint resolution that would have authorized consideration of the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which provides legal protections to the unborn children of pregnant mothers who suffer acts of violence, was also ignored.
For a seventh consecutive year, bills were filed to allow North Carolina voters to decide whether to include the definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman in the state’s Constitution. As in year’s passed, both HB 2070 and SB 1156Defense of Marriage were sent straight to committee’s with no intention of considering them.
Less than two months after it was gaveled in, the 2010 “Short” Session of the General Assembly was gaveled out with the traditional drop of a white handkerchief. SB 1462Sine Die Adjournment provides that the Legislature will next convene on Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at noontwo months after the November general elections that will see all 170 seats up for grabs.
Copyright © 2010. North Carolina Family Policy Council. All rights reserved.