Veto Overrides End Session
Special Report - July 6, 2012
The second half of an historic legislative session that followed an historic election in 2010, which saw Republicans gain control of both chambers for the first time since Reconstruction, came to a close this week. At 3:04 P.M. on Tuesday, July 3, the General Assembly adjourned its seven-week “Short Session” portion of the two-year legislative session “sine die.” House members took up about 10 final bills before adjourning, while the Senate hosted a “skeleton session” after having finished its official business in the wee morning hours.
Prominent in the rush of activity to adjourn the Short Session, legislators mustered historic override votes of three gubernatorial vetoes, bringing the total number of veto overrides for the biennial session to 11. Three-fifths supermajorities of both the House and Senate voted to reject Governor Beverly Perdue’s veto of HB 950Modify 2011 Appropriations Act, SB 416Amend Death Penalty Procedures, and SB 820Clean Energy and Economic Security Act.
Budget. The Short Session is primarily tasked with amending the state’s two-year budget that is passed during odd-numbered-year Long Sessions. In the event that an adjusted budget is not approved, the state continues to operate under the existing budget, which often includes automatic, and sometimes drastic, cuts. The $20.2 billion plan in HB 950 includes pay raises for teachers and state employees, a cap on the state’s gasoline tax, additional Medicaid funding, funds for substantial education reforms proposed by Senate President Pro Temp Phil Berger (RRockingham), higher education scholarships and financial aid, and a prohibition on state funding to Planned Parenthood. Missing from the budget are funds for compensation of victims of the state’s former forced sterilization program, funds for a scholarship funding corporate tax credit pushed by school choice advocates, and funding for the North Carolina Teaching Fellows Program.
Racial Justice Act. Despite Governor Perdue’s veto, the 2009 Racial Justice Act has been significantly limited with the passage of SB 416Amend Death Penalty Procedures. The Racial Justice Act allows judges to reconsider death penalty sentences given for cases in which it is found that “race was the basis of the decision to seek or impose the death penalty.” After the Act passed, nearly all death row inmates in North Carolina asked for a review of their case. The changes clarify that statistics alone are insufficient to prove racial bias. Under SB 416, inmates who claim racial bias in their case would be limited to only citing statistics from the area where they received their sentence, rather than across the state, and for “the period from 10 years prior to the commission of the offense to the date that is two years after the imposition of the death sentence.”
Fracking. North Carolina has taken the first step toward opening the state to hydraulic fracking. Late in the evening on July 2, legislators voted to override the governor’s veto of SB 820Clean Energy and Economic Security Act. The bill sets up an Energy and Mining Commission to study and set up regulations governing mining of natural gas using hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, that could begin as early as 2014. Once the Commission’s preparation work is complete, the Legislature will have to vote to approve the Commission’s work before the actual process of tapping into the state’s natural gas reserves could begin.
Cherokee Casinos. North Carolina has now legalized Las Vegas-style gambling on the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians’ reservation in Western North Carolina. The governor, who negotiated a new gambling Compact with the Cherokee in November 2011, but needed the General Assembly to change current law in order for it to take effect, signed SB 582-Authorize Indian Gaming/Revenue about an hour after the Senate voted 35 to 11 on June 6 to concur with House changes to the bill.
The measure amends North Carolina law to allow the Cherokee to offer Class III gaming activities on Indian lands to include gambling machines, live table games such as craps, roulette, blackjack and poker, raffles and video gambling. The Cherokee have operated a casino in Western North Carolina since 1997 with limited gambling activities (such as bingo, raffles, and video-based games), but the Tribe has been pushing for the ability to offer Class III gambling, which is illegal in North Carolina, for years.
Video Poker. HB 1180Video Sweepstakes Entertainment Tax ultimately died a quiet death late in the session, but not before making waves in the halls of the General Assembly. The bill sought to legalize the existing video sweepstakes gambling establishments across North Carolina, sometimes known as "sweepstakes cafes" or "internet cafes.” It would have also authorized an unlimited number of new establishments with an unlimited number of gambling machines, almost all of which allow access to video poker.
HB 1188Casino Night for Nonprofits sought to allow nonprofit organizations to host “Casino Nights” that include live table dealers and the consumption of alcohol. Similar bills have been presented in the past, but rejected because of a recognition that the alleged benefits of legalizing expanded gambling in the State are far outweighed by the harms to the players and families who will suffer from compulsive gambling addictions and the increased crime that comes with gambling activity. HB 1188 failed to gain any traction after staff analysis indicated that the Cherokee would not have to make any payments to the state were casino gambling to be authorized statewide, even for nonprofits.
When HB 1179Indian Cultural Center/Terminate Lease first came up on the calendar for consideration in the House Rules Committee, someone noticed that the bill had a provision to recognize the Lumbee Tribe, which are mainly located in Robeson County, as qualifying for all of the federal programs they would qualify for were they a federally recognized tribe. In short, the Lumbee would be able to petition the governor for a compact to operate one or more Las Vegas style casinos on tribal lands. The provision was removed in a proposed committee substitutite, a version which received a lot of discussion and debate, but which eventually failed to pass before adjournment after slightly different versions were passed by the House and Senate.
Public School Reforms. The Senate spent several committee meetings and several hours of floor debate massaging SB 795Excellent Public Schools Act. The bill proposed changes to improve K-3 literacy, assign school performance grades, adjust the school calendar, strengthen teacher licensure requirements, repeal the prohibition on teacher prepayment, provide a tax deduction for educational supplies, establish teacher contracts and eliminate public financing for the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, and more. In the end, the state budget included many of the reforms proposed in SB 795, as well as $47 million to implement the reforms.
HB 1104Scholarship Funding Corporate Tax Credit proposed creating an “Equal Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit” for taxpayers that make donations to education scholarship organizations that give scholarships to low income students to attend private or religious schools of their choice. Bill sponsors touted the measure as a means of providing more educational opportunities to low income students while also saving the state money. In the end, the bill sparked debate in the House, but never received consideration by either chamber.
The Legislature will convene is 2013-2014 session at noon on Wednesday, January 30. On that day, the 170 citizens who are elected on November 6 will begin a new two-year session governing North Carolina along with a newly elected governor in the wake of Governor Perdue’s decision to forego a second term. Before officially kicking off the new session, the General Assembly will convene for a daylong organization session on the second Wednesday in January.
Every legislative session has its own flavor and tenor, but it is unlikely that any session in the near future will boast the historic significance of the 2011-2012 session. Republicans seized their opportunity to show North Carolinians how they would lead and govern, and the public policy of the state shows the results of those changes from the passage of a marriage protection amendment and enhanced regulations to protect unborn children and their mothers to budgets balanced without tax increases or the support of the governor to expanded energy exploration and educational choices. Now, the people of North Carolina, who gave the Republicans a chance to govern after the 2010 elections must decide whether they like what they saw or want a return to the Democrat policies long a mainstay in North Carolina state government.
Video Poker Bill Dies In Committee - June 28, 2012
Bill Would Legalize Video Poker - June 25, 2012
Budget Goes To Governor - June 22, 2012
House Modifies Racial Justice Act - June 13, 2012
Gambling Compact Signed Into Law - June 7, 2012
Senate Approves Education Reforms - June 5, 2012
Scholarship Funding Corporate Tax Credit - May 29, 2012
Legislators Return To Raleigh - May 15, 2012
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