Monday on Jones Street: Charter Schools in, red light cameras out, big budget news this week | News

Monday on Jones Street: Charter Schools in, red light cameras out, big budget news this week

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The N.C. passed a controversial — and campaign promised —charter schools bill Monday evening and said that, if you run from the cops, you should lose your car.

The Senate voted to outlaw red-light cameras at the start of what will likely be a very busy week at the statehouse.

Portions of the state budget, crafted in part by Republican leaders meeting in secret, will likely be released this week, giving the public its first detailed looks at the GOP-run-legislature's answer to Gov. Bev Perdue's budget proposals. State Rep. Bryan Holloway, R-Stokes and an education budget subcommittee co-chairman, said the "tentative plan" is to release the education portion of the budget Tuesday, and have a committee vote on it next week.

"The key word is tentative," Holloway said Monday evening.

Tuesday's House and Senate sessions will be held in the old state Capitol building a block away from the larger and more modern state legislative building. It's a largely ceremonial session, but the state Senate is expected to take up the pardon of former N.C. Gov. William Holden ...

Holden was impeached in the 1870s, apparently after he called up troops to respond to Ku Klux Klan activities in Caswell and Alamance counties. This pardon was supposed to move through the Senate some weeks ago, but it was delayed after an anonymous letter was left on senators desks, declaring Holden "an unscrupulous and arrogant demagogue."

The letter writer has since been identified.

After Tuesday's sessions, the House will hold an informational meeting on "fracking," a controversial process that uses water and dangerous chemicals to break up dirt and rock so natural gas can be extracted. Some say it's safe, some tell 60 Minutes that it's poisoning their well water.

State Rep. Mitch Gillespie, R-McDowell, said he plans to introduce a fracking bill — presumably to legalize the now banned** process in North Carolina — this week and discuss it in the House Environment Committee he co-chairs Thursday. Tuesday's presentations will be by Dr. Vik Rao, a former Halliburton executive now heading the Research Triangle Energy Consortium, and former N.C. DENR Secretary Bill Holman, who is now at Duke University.

** Correction and update: Vertical fracking is currently legal in North Carolina. But horizontal fracking, which is the method drillers prefer and what people are usually referring to when they talk about fracking, is banned. Also, Rep. Gillespie said Tuesday afternoon that his bill will not legalize horizontal fracking, it would simply study it. The move to legalize it could come next year, he said. Gillespie said he'll release the text of his study bill Wednesday. **

As for Monday evening at the legislature, the Senate met and adjourned quickly, voting to outlaw red-light cameras as a traffic-law-enforcement tool. Senate Bill 187 passed 29-18 and moves to the House for further debate.

The cameras are relatively rare in North Carolina, but are in place for several Raleigh intersections. If the House and governor agree with the Senate, those will have to come down starting Dec. 1, the day the bill takes effect.

The House spent most of its time debating charter schools, and WRAL's Laura Leslie breaks down that debate here. Democrats pushed back against the changes, and several said the relaxed rules charter schools live by will mean a return to segregated schools and difficult learning environments for poor, disabled and underachieving students who will be lumped in together after charters skim the creme of the student crop.

Republicans disagreed, saying the new rules in Senate Bill 8 will give parents more choices, and students a better chance to get out of failing schools and into good ones. Raising the state-mandated cap on charter schools was one of the GOP's bigger campaign promises last fall, but the night's most passionate speech in favor of charter schools came from state Rep. Marcus Brandon, a Guilford Democrat.

The bill isn't perfect, but it's something new, Brandon said. In the current system, 41 percent of the black male students in his county don't graduate high school, he said.

"If we do the same thing, they're not going to make it," he said.

The bill passed the House 68-51, but with changes since the Senate approved it in February, so it will have to return to the Senate for final approval. Then it will be up to Perdue to decide whether the changes become law and, though she has not said she will veto the bill, former Speaker of the House Joe Hackney, D-Orange, predicted a veto during Monday's debate.

The House also passed House Bill 427 Monday, which allows judges to seize the vehicles of people who lead police on a car chase. The vehicles, or money made selling them, would go to local school systems. The bill passed 116-1 and will get another House vote Wednesday before heading to the Senate.

The House also passed House Bill 381, which would outlaw roadblocks targeting "a particular vehicle type." That means no checking just motorcycles, or just Honda Accords, though there is an exception for commercial vehicles, such as hazardous waste trucks, bill sponsor John Torbett, R-Gaston, said.

This concerned state Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union, who noted that some vehicles are "rather tricked out," which is "indicative of certain types of behavior." These vehicles, Horn said, should "invite scrutiny."

Horn voted against the bill on second reading, but may have changed his mind before the third and final vote. It passed 117-0 and moves to the Senate.

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