North Carolina General Assembly Adjourns
Family North Carolina MagazineSep/Oct 2007
by John L. Rustin
The 2007 Session of the North Carolina General Assembly, which began under a blanket of snow the last week in January, ended in the oppressive heat of a Tar Heel summer on August 2. While marking the increasing temperatures in our State Capitol during the six-month-long session, the rising mercury also symbolized an escalation in the political heat in Raleigh. Plagued by scandal, state lawmakers saw one of their ownformer Speaker of the House Jim Blackresign, plead guilty to federal and state corruption charges, and face over five years in federal prison and more than $1 million in fines.
Also sentenced during the year were former State Lottery Commissioner Kevin Geddings, who failed to publicly disclose significant income he received from lottery company Scientific Games; former State Representative Mike Decker who admitted to accepting nearly $50,000 from Black to switch from Republican to Democrat and vote for Black for Speaker in 2003; and former lobbyist and Black political director Meredith Norris, who violated the state’s lobbying laws by failing to register as a lobbyist for Scientific Games and at least one other client.
Despite the cloud of controversy surrounding these ongoing legal proceedings, members of the North Carolina General Assembly introduced a whopping 3,645 bills, passed a record-breaking $20.7 billion budget and ratified hundreds of new laws. Throughout the session, the North Carolina Family Policy Council was on the ground at the legislative building meeting one-on-one with lawmakers, educating them about dozens of issues, testifying before legislative committees, and tracking hundreds of bills of interest to the families of North Carolina. The following summary is a highlight of the activities and status of some of those bills. Lawmakers are scheduled to return to Raleigh on May 13, 2008, to convene the “Short” Session.
MARRIAGE & FAMILY
In what many seasoned observers called the largest rally they had ever seen at the legislative complex in Raleigh, thousands of citizens from across North Carolina gathered on March 6 to urge state lawmakers to pass a State Marriage Amendment. Nonetheless, the General Assembly failedfor the fourth year in a rowto approve a bill that would allow the voters of the state to amend the North Carolina Constitution to define marriage as “the union of one man and one woman at one time.” The bill, HB 493Defense of Marriage, did make it out of the House Rules Committee to the House floor (further than any other State Marriage Amendment bill had gone before), but first-term Speaker of the House Joe Hackney (D-Orange) denied the House the opportunity to vote on the bill by re-referring it to the House Judiciary 1 Committee, effectively killing the bill for the year. The Senate version, SB 13, was never considered. The issue remains alive for the 2008 legislative session, thanks to the quick action of Rep. Paul Stam (R-Wake) and Sen. Phil Berger (R-Rockingham), who both successfully amended the “adjournment resolution” in their respective chambers before its passage.
In addition to formally adjourning the 2007 Session, this resolution dictates what types of bills are eligible for introduction in the 2008 “Short” Session. Unlike adjournment resolutions in prior years, the original version of SJR 1573 excluded a provision that would allow constitutional amendments to be introduced during the short session. The Stam and Berger amendments fixed this deficiency and opened the door for a State Marriage Amendment in 2008.
In addition to avoiding a vote on the Marriage Amendment, the State House gave a boost to supporters of homosexuality by placing its stamp of approval on a bill that would grant specially protected status to individuals on the basis of “sexual orientation” or “gender identity or expression.” The Senate, however, rejected the inclusion of these terms HB 1366 and returned an amended version of the bill to the House without this controversial language. The bill was ultimately re-referred to the House Judiciary 1 Committee and remains eligible for the 2008 session.
HB 1366School Violence Prevention Act would require local school boards to adopt policies to prevent bullying and harassment in public schools, even though the State Board of Education has required local school systems to have these policies in place since 2004. In contrast to the State Board’s directive, which specifically left out enumerations, HB 1366 includes a provision that would require local school boards to enumerate a list of specially protected classifications in their anti-bullying policies including “sexual orientation” and “gender identity or expression,” in essence affirming and providing special protections for public school students and staff who engage in or identify with homosexuality, bisexuality, cross dressing and other “alternative” sexual behaviors. An amendment offered on the House floor by Rep. Paul Stam to remove the enumeration section from HB 1366 failed on a 58 to 59 vote.
Several other bills seeking to introduce the term “sexual orientation” in our state law failed this year. Those bills include HB 1631Safer Communities Act, which would add “sexual orientation” to the state’s Ethnic Intimidation Law, and SB 1534Nondiscrimination in State Employment (see also HB 1789), which would add “sexual orientation” to North Carolina’s State Personnel Act. Both of these bills define “sexual orientation” as “actual or perceived heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality or gender-related identity or expression.”
North Carolina’s adultery laws were under attack this session. A bill that would have abolished North Carolina’s 200-year-old “cohabitation” lawwhich criminalizes fornication and adulterywas introduced by Rep. Thomas Wright (D-New Hanover). This bill, HB 1323Repeal Cohabitation Law, was assigned to a subcommittee of the House Judiciary 2 Committee in May, never to be seen again. Another related bill that would have abolished the civil actions of alienation of affections and criminal conversation was defeated in the Senate Judiciary I Committee in May by a 10 to 8 vote. SB 1503Abolish Alienation of Affection/Criminal Conversation, sponsored by Sen. Ellie Kinnaird (D-Orange), proposed to eliminate two long-standing laws that allow an aggrieved spouse to: (1) sue a third party who interferes in the relationship, resulting in the loss of the love and affection in the marriage and (2) sue a third party who commits adultery with his or her husband or wife. The House version of the bill, HB 681, was never heard.
The issue of adoption was also on the minds of lawmakers, as they passed a bill that allows adoption agencies and local departments of social services to act as “confidential intermediaries” between adoptees and biological parents. These agencies may “obtain and share nonidentifying birth family health information or facilitate contact or share identifying information with adult adoptees, adult lineal descendants of deceased adoptees, and biological parents with the written consent of all parties to the contact or the sharing of information.” The original version of HB 445Access to Information for Adult Adoptees, which was rejected, would have allowed adult adoptees to obtain a copy of their original birth certificate, leading to the identity of their biological parents without prior consent.
Another controversial adoption-related bill was discussed, but did not pass either chamber. SB 90Post-Adoption Contacts would grant biological family members legal standing to sue adoptive parents in order to enforce post adoption contact agreements. These agreements, which may be voluntarily entered into under current law, outline different forms of contact and communication that may take place between biological family members and the adoptive family. Existing law provides adoptive parents the discretion to determine what kind of contact, if any, is appropriate and in the best interest of the child and family. SB 90, on the other hand, would formalize these agreements and allow biological family members the ability to seek legal enforcement action, potentially disrupting adoptive families and harming adoption in general.
On the education front, one of the most heated battles occurred behind the scenes over a bill that never made it to the House floor. HB 879Modify School Health Education Program would have abolished North Carolina’s abstinence until marriage education law in favor of “comprehensive sex education” that promotes condoms and contraceptives and affirms homosexuality, bisexuality and other “alternative” sexual behaviors. Although this bill saw limited committee action, it did not make it to the House floor. A similar bill in the Senate, SB 1182, never saw action.
Five bills were introduced to either raise or remove the statewide charter school cap of 100, but none of these bills were approved. The House Education Committee turned HB 30Raise Cap on Charter Schools into a bill to “study the performance of charter schools.” This bill was never considered bythe Senate. Near the end of session, one of the sponsors of HB 30, Rep. Jim Gulley (R-Mecklenburg), tried to amend SB 12562007 Studies Bill to require a study of charter schools, but his amendment was defeated. Rep. Cary Allred (R-Alamance) attempted to amend the budget bill to raise the cap from 100 to 125, but this effort also failed.
Despite the fact that nearly 60 percent of North Carolina’s local school systems have policies authorizing the administration of corporal punishment under very strict guidelines, HB 853Prohibit Corporal Punishment in Schools, would have banned corporal punishment in the public schools. This bill was defeated on the House floor by a vote of 50-66.
Although it failed to act on dozens of pro-life measures, the General Assembly again included a provision in the state budget to maintain eligibility restrictions on the State Abortion Fund. This provision, which allows the Fund to pay for abortions only in cases of rape, incest, or when the life of the mother is at risk, has all but eliminated the state funding of abortions through the State Abortion Fund since 1995.
The North Carolina House passed legislation that would authorize the use of state taxpayer dollars to fund human embryonic stem cell research, but the State Senate did not act on the bill before adjournment. HB 1837Stem Cell Research and Wellness Act, sponsored by Rep. Earl Jones (DGuilford), passed the House by a 60 to 55 vote in late July, after a $10 million appropriation was removed from the bill. While not directly funding embryonic stem cell research, the measure would provide guidelines for the issuance of grants from the State Health and Wellness Trust Fund to non-profit organizations that could use the funds to conduct research involving human embryos. An amendment by Rep. Mitch Gillespie (R-McDowell) to require the General Assembly to approve the grant guidelines before any grants could be made under the bill was adopted in the House Appropriations Committee An amendment offered on the House floor by Rep. Mark Hilton (RCatawba) to limit the bill to non-embryonic stem cells failed on a 45 to 62 vote.
The General Assembly gave final approval to a bill that revamps the state’s laws regarding end-of-life care. HB 634Advance Directives/Health Care Power of Attorney (formerly SB 1046) rewrites North Carolina’s health care power of attorney and living will laws and introduces an additional instrument, the Medical Order for Scope of Treatment (MOST) form, through which an individual may document their wishes regarding the level of care they desire to receive in an end-of-life situation. HB 634 appears to presume that treatment will be provided to all patientsunless the patient elects to withhold or withdraw care through the use of one of these documentsbut fails to codify a minimum standard of medical care for treatment in North Carolina, and no such provision exists in state law.
A month after the start of the state’s 2007-08 fiscal year, Gov. Mike Easley signed into law a record $20.7 billion budget. The final version of HB 14732007 Appropriations Act raises spending levels by almost 10 percent over last year’s budget. Among other changes, the bill makes permanent a quarter percent state sales tax increase originally approved as a “temporary tax increase” in 2001.
Due to a significant overestimation of lottery revenue during its first fiscal year of operation, the budget anticipates only $350 million in net lottery funds, $75 million less than the revenue included in the 2006-07 budget. In addition, lawmakers inserted a provision that ostensibly allows the State Lottery Commission to alter the payout structure of the numbers game, allowing the Commission to dedicate a higher percentage of lottery revenues to prize payouts and a smaller percentage to educational programs.
Provisions to establish needle exchange programs in North Carolina were amended out of both the House and Senate budgets prior to passage. These programs would have provided needles, syringes, condoms, alcohol wipes, drug “cooking” supplies and other drug paraphernalia to heroin and cocaine addicts and other intravenous drug users at taxpayer expense, and exempt program participants from prosecution under the state’s drug paraphernalia laws.
John L. Rustin is Vice President and Director of Government Relations for the North Carolina Family Policy Council.
Copyright © 2007. North Carolina Family Policy Council. All rights reserved.