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State lawmakers advance bills as session's days dwindle

North Carolina Republicans are pressing legislation through the General Assembly, seeking to complete work on measures subject to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper's veto as the two-year session dwindles


The Associated Press

Thursday, June 14, 2018

RALEIGH — North Carolina Republicans pressed legislation through the General Assembly on Wednesday, seeking to complete work on measures subject to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto by a self-imposed target this week as the two-year session dwindles.

House and Senate GOP leaders want to give final approval to as many statewide measures as possible by Friday, giving them time to vote on overriding any bills Cooper vetoes before adjournment, likely by the end of the month.

In between, legislators say they want to consider proposed constitutional amendments on the November ballot, such as one requiring photo identification to vote. A House committee advanced Wednesday a Senate measure idling for a year that if approved by voters, would lower the state constitution’s cap on the income tax rate from 10 percent to 5.5 percent.

The House debated late Wednesday on a wide-ranging agriculture bill that would place new protections upon the pork industry after a jury this spring ordered Smithfield Foods pay huge penalties to neighbors of hog farms for their odors and other nuisances. The measure also would prohibit beverages made from soy, almonds and plants from being marketed as “milk” on their cartons, but a late change wouldn’t implement the mandate unless other Southeastern states agree to do the same.

A dozen committees met Wednesday, with floor debate expected into the evening as both chambers debated and voted on scores of bills.

The Senate voted 35-8 earlier in the day for already-negotiated “technical corrections” to the $23.9 billion budget adjustments that became law earlier this week when the legislature overrode Cooper’s veto on the spending plan.

The budget fix legislation locates $350,000 annually to continue a suicide prevention line through mid-2021 and $27 million to build new veterans’ homes in the Triangle and Triad region. It also changes a provision in the budget law that would have required the Highway Patrol to make new troopers pay up to $36,000 for their training if they leave the force within three years. Now that directive would be optional.

The technical corrections bill also edits language within the budget opponents otherwise fear could sink a Durham-Orange light-rail project. But the measure would still cap state funding toward the $2.4 billion construction price at $190 million, and require that commitments for federal and private funds be finalized by next year or the project will be removed from the state’s transportation’s blueprint.

The House planned debate later Wednesday on legislation that would toughen punishments on prisoners who expose themselves to a prison employee or perform other offenses. The changes come following the violent deaths of five correctional officers or staff last year at two state prisons. Another bill addresses opioid abuse by allowing certain police investigators to access pharmacy information and to create new criminal penalties.

House members kept alive plans by the state Department of Transportation to allow alcohol sales on an upcoming passenger-only ferry from Hatteras to Ocracoke. An amendment to remove that authority failed Wednesday by a 56-57 vote.

Other legislation advancing through the Senate would allow nonprofit membership associations to offer health insurance that’s largely unregulated by the state and federal government. North Carolina Farm Bureau and the NC Realtors back the measure, which they say will help farmers and real estate agents obtain affordable insurance. But opponents say these insurance groups could refuse to cover people with pre-existing conditions and weaken health insurance markets for subsidized policies created by the 2010 federal health insurance overhaul law.