Following the Thanksgiving holiday, the legislature held a brief “special session” convening Sunday evening (11/27), with each chamber covering a few significant policies. Several policies were rumored to be considered, including veto overrides; a tribal compact; the Racial Justice Act; changes to brewery laws; a gas tax cap; and clarifications for teacher pay. In the end the only policies of which passed included amendments to the Racial Justice Act and brewery laws.
Senate Passes Amendments to the Racial Justice Act, Up to the Governor…
The Senate gave final approval last Monday evening (11/28) to changes to the Racial Justice Act, of which removes death row inmates’ ability to use statistical evidence of racial bias to challenge their sentences. While opponents argue that the changes are in fact a total repeal of the Act, proponents of the changes are mere reforms and modifications. North Carolina's district attorneys have been lobbying this month to roll back the law, saying it has become a backdoor way to halt capital punishment in the state.
The Senate’s passage with a vote of 27-17 means the measure now goes to the Governor for her to sign or veto. While there was no statement from the Governor’s office as to what she will decide, members of the Democratic Party seem confident that the governor will veto the measure since the Governor signed the initial Racial Justice Act into law in 2009. "I'm a real strong supporter of the death penalty," Perdue said. "We should not allow discrimination based on race, poverty or any other factor to infect the criminal justice system. I'm thinking about it hard." The governor has until December 29th to act on the measure; if she doesn’t veto it or sign it, the bill becomes law without her signature.
Gas Tax Cap “Dead” for Now….
The House primarily pointed their attention during the special session to a proposal to cap the gas tax. While the House approved the measure in an overwhelming vote, the Senate adjourned before considering it. The measure would have capped the tax at its current rate of 35 cents per gallons, which rises and falls every six months based on the wholesale of gasoline and some projections had an expected increase to 39 cents in January. With the Senate adjourning before consideration, Senate leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) stated that the timing was not good to cap the tax and restrict money flowing to road construction jobs and that the spring session was a better time to take a more comprehensive look at the gas tax and road funding.
Those House members in favor of the gas tax cap purported that the cap would help consumers without substantially delaying road construction. Opponents, on the other hand argued that the cap and associated revenue loss would mean the loss of 2,800 jobs; with Department of Transportation officials citing a net loss of 495 million, affecting over 400 miles of paving projects and 72 bridges scheduled for repair or replacement.
While the issue of the gas tax cap is technically “dead” for now since the Senate did not consider the measure, the General Assembly could take up the measure again in a future special session or during the official session in May.
Senate & House Pass Changes to Brewery Laws
A bill that will allow breweries to sell their own products, regardless of the fact if some of those projects are brewed by a sister location out of state passed both the House and Senate with overwhelming majorities. The changes to the state Alcoholic Beverage Control laws will, according to supporters, allow some western North Carolina breweries to expand and create jobs.
House Passes Democratic National Convention Resolution
Before adjourning, the House approved a nonbinding resolution asking the Democratic National Convention to changes to rules and “respect North Carolina’s right-to-work laws.” The resolution asks the convention to “refrain from hiring workers and companies from outside the state when qualified businesses or workers are available within the state.”
The resolution was in reaction to concerns by some that North Carolina firms were not getting contracts for the September convention because they are not unionized entities. While opponents of the measure argued there was no evidence to suggest nonunion workers were getting bypassed for union firms, proponents insisted they wanted to make sure the convention in Charlotte hired local workers.
What is Next?...
Per the adjournment resolution passed earlier in November, the General Assembly is scheduled to reconvene again for two additional special sessions on February 16th and April 23rd. It is possible that the General Assembly will be called to an additional session before or in the interim to deal with specifically the tribal compact Governor Perdue and the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indian finalized last week. While the House and Senate did not consider the agreement during this past special session, citing additional time needed for review, both leaders indicated they anticipated an additional session to be called by the governor in the near time.
New State Fiscal Report….Surplus Money
State revenue collections are ahead of projections that were set when lawmakers approved the state budget earlier this year. A report given by the Fiscal Research Division last week showed that the state has taken in $115 million above the roughly $6 billion expected through October 31st, the first four months of the fiscal year. Staffers indicated that the amount of taxes withheld from worker paychecks is improving and corporate income tax collections are above targeted levels.
Click here to review the full report.