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In the legislature: Clean air, banning bullies, eating local in schools

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Click underlined bills to download PDFs.

If you think getting a non-smoking table at a restaurant is tough, try moving away from the smokestacks. While the legislature debates the smoking ban bill, HB 2, two measures have been filed that would also clean up the air by placing a moratorium on coal-fired power plants: SB 1044 sponsored by Orange County Democrat Ellie Kinnaird and its House counterpart, HB 811 co-sponsored by Democrats Paul Luebke (Durham), Verla Insko (Orange), Pricey Harrison (Guilford) and Susan Fisher (Buncombe).

The bills restrict the Utilities Commission from approving construction of these facilities unless the commission a) finds it's in the public interest and b) that energy efficiency, renewable energy and other energy innovations weren't more cost-effective and reliable.

The bill goes on to say that utility customers should not have to pay higher rates for the construction of these plants—yes, the cost is passed on to you—especially during a recession.

The House version has been referred to the rules committee and the Senate counterpart to the commerce committee, where, considering the lobbying muscle of the utility companies, it's likely to die—wheezing and coughing all the way.

Why Republican Sens. Andrew Brock, Phil Berger, Jim Jacumin, Jerry Tillman and Neal Hunt think a woman's right to choose is any of their business, we don't know, but they're leading the charge on SB 1039, which would prohibit teachers and state employees from having abortions covered by the state health plan. It has been referred to the committee on employee hospital and medical benefits.

Despite continued conservative grumbling, the anti-bullying bill, HB 548, has been resurrected this session. The School Violence Prevention Act, which called for schools to prohibit bullying or harassing behavior toward all kids, was prompted by instances of harassment of gay and lesbian students. But conservative lawmakers' homophobia stalled the bill last session because they and other opponents claimed—erroneously—that it gave special protection to gay and lesbian kids.

Fortunately, the School Violence Prevention Act is standing up to the House bullies and has been referred to the education committee. Not to be outdone, the conservatives have their own version, HB 776, titled "No Bullying Anyone at Public Schools." It conveniently omits the School Prevention Act's section that defines bullying, in part, as acts reasonably perceived as being motivated by race, color, national origin, gender, socioeconomic status, disability or sexual orientation, among other characteristics.

You will not be able to bully pets under SB 1062, which has Democratic Senate members Kinnaird and Floyd McKissick as co-sponsors. It would strengthen domestic violence protective orders to extend to pets.

Instead of mystery meat shipped from, well the mysterious places that raise mystery meat, what if your kids' school lunch included foods like apples, carrots, cheese and fish—all grown and raised in North Carolina? SB 1067, sponsored by Sen. Charlie Albertson, would set a statewide goal that 10 percent of food products consumed in N.C. schools would be sustainably and locally produced by 2020.

The bill would also establish a 20-member Sustainable Local Food Policy Council to help promote and develop those goals. The council would be tasked with several duties, among them determining if local food could be the centerpiece of public school lunch programs and promoting urban gardens as a way to curb hunger in the state.

The Council would fall under the Department of Commerce, which would appropriate $200,000 from its budget over the next two years to start the program. Members would not be paid except for travel or other per diem expenses.

That could also mean good food news for all North Carolina workers, who, under SB 1055 would have a mandatory lunch break—hopefully made up of local delicacies.

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