It's been called a "mythical beast," a "highwire" and "artificially imposed," but whatever you want to call it, Crossover Day at the North Carolina General Assembly was June 2--the official deadline for all non-budget bills this legislative session. Any bill that had not been adopted by either the state House or Senate by then is dead until 2007.
Of course, sharp political observers have noted that lawmakers can still get their pet policies through by attaching them to budget bills as "special provisions." And activists have pointed out that the end of Crossover Day doesn't mark the end of the session. There are still plenty of ways for citizens to make their voices heard on bills that remain in play.
For the record, here are a few of those to keep an eye on, as well as a couple that have been sent to their final rest--at least for the time being. For details on any of these bills, visit the General Assembly's Web site at www.ncleg.net.
Lived to see another day
Senate Bill 981, Drinking Water Reservoir Protection Act. Sponsored by state Sen. Janet Cowell (D-Wake), would require the state Environmental Management Commission to come up with rules to protect or clean up reservoirs and bar new pollution discharge allocations to wastewater treatment plants in those areas.
House Bill 1311, Domestic Violence Victims Empowerment Act. Would allow domestic violence victims who've taken out protective orders to apply for concealed handgun permits. The N.C. Sheriffs Association succeeded in changing the language that said sheriffs "shall issue" such permits to "may issue"--a move the gun-rights group, Grass Roots North Carolina, called "gutless." Advocates for battered women point out that the same group was opposed to laws that would take guns away from convicted batterers. "They are now advocates of giving guns to women who are threatened," says Fran Bumgarner, a Durham resident whose grandson was killed in a domestic violence-related homicide. "These guns can easily be taken from them and used against them."
H767, Enhance Migrant Housing Act. Now before the Senate Agriculture Committee. This bill is weaker than one originally introduced in the Senate (S962) which would require working telephones, adequate toilets and showers, washers and dryers, and door and window locks in housing for migrant workers. This version would at least up inspections and get the state Department of Labor more active on the issue.
S612, Amend Lobbying Laws. Sponsored by Sen. Tony Rand (D-Cumberland) and co-sponsored by Sen. Ellie Kinnaird (D-Orange), this good-government bill would expand the amount of information legislative lobbyists must provide the public and require registration of lobbying activities by employees of executive branch agencies.
S1134, Global Warming/Climate Act Change. Would set up a legislative commission to study global warming and "the emerging carbon economy." The commission would determine whether the state should set pollution reduction goals related to global warming and recommend appropriate targets.
S1057, Education Improvement Act of 2005. George Reed of the N.C. Council of Churches has called this version a "mere shadow of its former self" because so many of the original improvements are not included. The key remaining ones are setting up 11 small specialty high schools as pilot projects; expanding the state Teaching Fellows Program; and adding teacher retention to the standards used to evaluate school principals.
H529, Suspend Executions for Two Years. House Speaker Jim Black supported the moratorium and former death-row inmate Alan Gell--who was found innocent after nine years behind bars--lobbied hard for it. But votes came up a few short. The bill was amended to include funds for a study of the death penalty, a "fiscal note" that saved the measure from the crossover deadline. Black has said he will bring this up again after the House budget.
Died an untimely death
H1183, Access to Higher Education and a Better Economic Future. Despite endorsements from the likes of former Gov. Jim Hunt and business and religious leaders, this attempt to provide in-state tuition rates to undocumented students who have lived in the state for at least four years, graduated from a North Carolina high school and been accepted to a state public or community college was defeated by a conservative media attack that used online "polls" and anti-immigrant rhetoric.
H1303, Consumer Health Freedom Act. Sponsored by Rep. Paul Luebke (D-Durham), would remove penalties for practicing non-traditional healing methods such as homeopathy and herbalism that are not covered by existing medical licensing laws. Supporters say this would help increase consumer access to alternative therapies and prevent unnecessary harassment of alt-practitioners. The state medical board is the biggest opponent.
H330, Living Wage Act. The measure had already been amended to reduce the proposed minimum wage hike from $8.50 to $6.15 (that's an increase of $1). Still, it lost out to the lobbying efforts of groups like North Carolina Citizens for Business and Industry. That means, as Chris Fitzsimon of the Fletcher Foundation put it in one of his updates, "thousands of people in the state will continue to live in poverty despite working 40 hours a week."
H76, Ban Smoking in Restaurants. Well, that's what the original bill would have done. But opponents (namely, the N.C. Restaurant Association and tobacco lobbyists) convinced sponsors to change banning to "reducing" by beefing up requirements for no-smoking areas. Even so, this one flamed out.
S1006, Low-Emission Vehicles/Funds. Known to supporters as the "Clean Cars Bill," this would set up a program similar to the one in California that sets low-emission standards for inspections, recalls and warranties and requires state agencies to use vehicles that meet low polluting standards.
R.I.P. (at least for now)
S8, Defense of Marriage Act. Sponsored by Sen. James Forrester (R-Gaston). Designed to protect the public from the perceived dangers of gay marriage and civil unions by establishing that marriage between one man and one woman is the only union recognized by the state. Enough said.
S976, Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act. Another reactive measure aimed at preventing non-citizens from registering to vote or receiving public benefits (such as emergency room care?). The bill would have called in the Department of Homeland Security to develop a system for seeking out and finding undocumented workers.