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Legislative update

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Bills governing sick leave for workers, same-sex marriages, coal mining controversies and pet euthanasia are winding their way around Jones Street this week. Find more details at ncleg.net.

Paid sick days

A coalition of health care organizations, women's groups and advocates for children and senior citizens are backing House Bill 177, the Healthy Families and Healthy Workplaces Act. The bill would ensure that workers across the state have access to paid sick days to care for themselves and ill family members or to deal with incidents of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking.

Reps. Deborah Ross (D-Wake) and Dan Blue (D-Wake) are among the bill's primary sponsors.

Protections in the bill are designed to prevent the spread of illness at workplaces and at schools. Employees could be entitled to up to seven paid sick days per year without losing their jobs. Low-income workers would stand to gain the most, as they are least likely to have paid time off.

The N.C. Justice Center is organizing the coalition campaign in support of the bill in advance of its hearing before the House Commerce committee. For more information, visit www.ncjustice.org.

"Defense of Marriage"

On March 2, a group of 22 state senators introduced Senate Bill 272, a companion bill to the "Defense of Marriage" Act introduced in the House (House Bill 361) in February. The bill would amend the state's constitution to prohibit same-sex couples from marrying. Sen. Neal Hunt (R-Wake) is a co-sponsor.

Legislation outlawing gay marriage is a perennial cause for some Republican lawmakers. Thirty other states have such laws on their books; North Carolina is the only state in the Southeast without one.

North Carolina law (General Statute 51-1.2) already clearly states, "Marriages, whether created by common law, contracted or performed outside of North Carolina, between individuals of the same gender are not valid in North Carolina."

But conservatives argue an amendment to the state constitution is necessary because state law could be overturned in the courts.

Opponents of the legislation say that, in addition to depriving same-sex couples of the right to marry, the bill is written so broadly that it could also prohibit civil unions and domestic partnerships, and could even prevent private companies from extending benefits to employees' domestic partners.

The North Carolina Religious Coalition for Marriage Equality, an interfaith organization of more than 200 clergy from across the state, plans to join gay and lesbian rights group Equality North Carolina for a lobby day at the state capitol on March 24. For more information, visit equalitync.org.

Banning mountaintop removal

Half of the coal used to produce electricity in North Carolina is derived from the process known as mountaintop removal, which radically alters ecosystems, pollutes streams and rivers, and leaves behind billions of gallons of toxic "coal slurry." This environmental damage has devastating consequences for mountain communities.

Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Guilford) has introduced House Bill 340, the Appalachian Mountains Preservation Act, which would make it illegal for electric public utilities in North Carolina to purchase or use coal derived from dynamiting mountaintops in southern Appalachia.

Former President George W. Bush signed a controversial rule making it easier for mining companies to dump mountaintop removal debris directly into valleys and streams. Last month, the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals eased restrictions on obtaining mountaintop removal permits.

The bill's Senate companion, Senate Bill 341, is co-sponsored by Sen. Bob Atwater (D-Chatham/Durham) and Sen. Ellie Kinnaird (D-Orange).

Davie's Law

Animal protection advocates are expected to turn out on Wednesday, March 4, when the House Agriculture committee hears House Bill 6, the Humane Euthanasia in Shelters Act, also known as "Davie's Law." The bill would ban gas chambers as a method of euthanasia for animals in North Carolina's public shelters and establish lethal injection using sodium pentobarbital, the method preferred by veterinary groups, as the only allowed method.

Supporters say some state shelters are using inhumane and outmoded methods to destroy shelter animals, and that the legislation would establish clear and easy instructions that would prevent unnecessary suffering. Davie is the name of a puppy who survived gassing at a North Carolina shelter and was later rescued from a dumpster.

Rep. Ty Harrell (D-Wake) is a primary sponsor. A number of Triangle lawmakers are co-sponsoring both the House bill and its Senate companion, Senate Bill 199.

Matt Saldaña contributed to this report.

Correction (March 31, 2008): Mountaintop removal leaves behind billions of gallons (not tons) of toxic coal slurry.

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