It’s April. Do You Know Where Your Legislators Are?

Nelda Holder Photo: Tim Barnwell

Nelda Holder Photo: Tim Barnwell

By Nelda Holder –

It’s time to report in with any ideas for legislation in the NC Statehouse.

April 11 is the final filing date for public non-finance bills and resolutions in the NC House (April 4 was the deadline for the Senate). House bills related to appropriations and finance must be filed by April 25. The crossover deadline for general legislation is Thursday, April 27.

There is no deadline for redistricting bills, ratification of amendments to the U.S. Constitution, bills introduced on the report of the House Committees on Appropriation, Finance, or Rules, or bills providing for action on gubernatorial nominations and appointments. And of course, there is also the habitual opportunity to gut an active bill and substitute new wording, something that often produces some of the least studied and frequently least popular efforts on the part of the legislators.

As of April 5, there were 620 bills introduced in the House and 675 in the Senate.

HB2 compromise praised and condemned

In terms of news splash, the big event recently for the NC Legislature has been the repeal of HB2 (the “bathroom bill”) in a mixed vote of Democrats and Republicans on May 30. The bill eliminated State Laws 2016-3 and 2016-99, wiping out the original HB2 bill that had been passed a year earlier in a one-day special session, and which had led to perhaps unprecedented ill will and economic boycotts throughout the state as entertainers, investment companies, state governments, and individual tourists began to shun North Carolina based on the bill’s discriminatory effects.

The compromise was backed by Gov. Roy Cooper, who was quoted as saying, “It’s not a perfect deal, but it repeals House Bill 2 and begins to repair our reputation.” Senate and House leaders Phil Berger (R) and Tim Moore (R) acknowledged the new bill (HB142) as a compromise requiring “give and take from all sides.”

But although HB2 was wiped out by the new bill, provisions were included in the bill that make it clear that the state itself will regulate multi-occupancy facilities, and that establish a moratorium on local government ordinances regarding anti-discrimination ordinances dealing with employment practices and bathroom regulations. Local governments may still, however, impose non-discrimination policies on their own contractors.

Hitting the “reset” button seems to have pleased some but irritated those who wanted a no-strings repeal act. But at minimum, the bill returns the state to its former status quo. As a result, the initial responses from various business sectors have been positive, with the NCAA and the ACC quick to acknowledge their renewed attention to the state for citing future sports events. A number of prominent civil rights organizations, however, have called the compromise a failure in citizen protection, including the NC-NAACP, the ACLU of NC, and the state’s branch of the Human Right Campaign.

Reviving an old fight

After losing a court battle over changes passed last December to combine the State Board of Elections and the Ethics Commission, another bill to consolidate those functions is seeing movement in the Statehouse. Senate Bill 68 passed its third reading in the Senate and was sent to the House on March 22, where it is currently under active consideration. It’s a wordy, 15-page bill aiming to create what it calls the Bipartisan State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement. It seeks to avoid the legal entanglement of the earlier bill, judged to usurp the governor’s constitutional authority, but if passed, there is sure to be more judicial scrutiny.

Local boards of election would also be affected by the bill, changing from three-member to four-member bodies (two each from the two leading political parties). Appointees, take note, must be “of good moral character” and be registered voters in the county of their appointment.

Income tax rates may change again

A bill titled “Billion Dollar Middle Class Tax Cut” (SB 325) is headed from the Senate to the House for action. It would reduce the current flat-rate personal income tax rate from 5.499 to 5.35, increase standard deductions, increase the child tax deduction, reduce the corporate income tax rate, and adopt market-based sourcing for business tax apportionment. The cut would be in effect for the coming year, although the budget needs have not yet been set. An amendment to limit the personal income tax cut to taxpayers with an adjusted gross income of $200,000 or less failed on a 14-to-34 vote.

An assessment of North Carolina’s state and local taxes (from 2015) by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy offers a graphic glimpse of the shares of family income (for non-elderly taxpayers) imposed through flat-rate taxes in this state. It ranges from 9.2 percent for the lowest 20 percent in income (less than $18,000) to 6.8% for that $200,000 range, ending with an effective 5.3 percent for family incomes over $376,000.

And speaking of taxes—show us those tax returns!

A bill (SB 587) titled “Tax Returns Uniformly Made Public Act” has been filed by Sen. Jay Chaudhuri (D) of Raleigh, seeking to require candidates for president or vice president of the United States to file their federal income tax returns with the State Board of Elections no later than 70 days before the general election, before their names can appear on the general election ballot. The bill requires the SBOE to make those returns publically available on its website within seven days of filing, after redacting any personal information determined to be confidential by the SBOE in consultation with the Secretary of the Department of Revenue.

Whatever happened to ….

Many bills are introduced in the Legislature that are quickly tucked away from forward motion. Here are a few of the currently languishing statements of legislative intent.

House Joint Resolution 44: Introduced February 7 and waiting in the Judiciary I Committee since February 8, this bill would have the U.S. Congress call a Convention of the United States in order to propose amendments to “impose fiscal restraints on the federal government, limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government, and limit the terms of office for its officials and for members of Congress.”

HB 48 (Legislator-Lobbyist Reform Act): Called an act to “strengthen public confidence in government,” this bill would extend the period of time before which a former legislator may register as a lobbyist from six months to one year after serving in the Legislature. (Buncombe County Democratic Reps. John Ager, Susan Fisher, and Brian Turner are co-sponsors.)

HB 62 (Woman’s Right to Know Addition): A bill to require additional information be provided to women before a drug-induced abortion. That information would include instructions on discontinuing a drug-induced abortion. The bill was introduced February 8 and referred to Committee on Health on February 9.

SB 174  (Economic Security Act of 2017): A bill to increase the state minimum wage in phases to $15 per hour over five years. It also idealistically would require paid sick leave, family medical leave, equal pay for equal work, and re-enact earned income tax credit and tax credits for child care. Local Sen. Terry Van Duyn (D) is a primary sponsor; the bill has been in the Rules and Operations Committee since March 2. Buncombe County Rep. Susan Fisher (D) is primary sponsor of HB 238, a companion bill in the House, which went to the Rules, Calendar, and Operations Committee on March 6.

 


Nelda Holder is the author of The Thirteenth Juror – Ferguson: A Personal Look at the Grand Jury Transcripts. Read Holder’s blog, www.politicallypurplenc.com

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