A flood of legislation in the state Senate this week reflects the interests of industries and constituents as a key deadline for proposals arrives.
More than 150 bills have been introduced in the past three days, and more are coming before the 3 p.m. Thursday cutoff.
The growing pile gives a sense of the issues, large and small, that will be competing for time and attention as legislators enter the thick of their lawmaking session. The bills filed just this week cover the spectrum, everything from Iran divestment to licensing of mobile beauty salons.
Sen. Tamara Barringer, a Cary Republican, is sponsoring two bills, Senate Bill 423 and Senate Bill 424, which she said would help make foster children’s lives easier. Included is a proposal to allow some children to stay in foster care for an additional year, until they’re 19, and still receive state support.
As of February, the state had nearly 10,000 children in foster care, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.
Some will return to their parents, and others will be adopted. But those who turn 18 age out of foster care.
Barringer and her husband were foster parents who made homes for children who she said suffered severe neglect or were victims of crimes.
“I frankly wish I had not seen this,” she said. “Having seen it, I cannot and will not be silent.”
The Senate deadline comes a few weeks before a similar cutoff date in the state House.
Sen. Tom Apodaca, a Hendersonville Republican and the powerful Rules Committee chairman, said Senate leaders thought it best to set an earlier deadline “so we know what we’re going to be doing.”
Typically, the Rules Committee is the final resting place for bills that don’t have a chance of passing. That’s not true this week, Apodaca said. The committee is being used as a holding area for bills awaiting appropriate committee assignments.
Sen. Brent Jackson, a major melon grower who takes a lead in agriculture issues, filed a wide-ranging farm bill that, among other things, would help the deer farming industry expand.
Senate Bill 513 would also transfer the regulation of deer farms from the Wildlife Resources Commission to the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. The move reflects an effort by the industry – which raises deer for meat and for their antlers – to grow in North Carolina, where wildlife officials have restricted it out of fear of a devastating disease that has wiped out deer in other states.
The N.C. Wildlife Federation opposes the move. But Wildlife Resources Commission Executive Director Gordon Meyers and Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler said the state will continue to guard against the disease showing up in North Carolina. Meyers called the bill a compromise and said it “reflects the best available science and years of input.”
This is the third year that Jackson, an Autryville Republican, has run comprehensive bills promoting agricultural interests, and much of this year’s bill is aimed at easing oversized-load regulations to make it easier for farm products and equipment to move on the state’s highways.
The bill doesn’t include a provision that Jackson has tried to pass for several years preventing undercover investigations of farms by people who are not law enforcement officers, such as reporters and animal-welfare advocates.
But a separate measure, Senate Bill 433, which Jackson and two other senators also filed Wednesday, would do that for more than just farms. It would prohibit anyone from gaining access to the non-public area of their employer’s property for the purpose of making secret recordings or removing data or other material. The bill creates a civil cause of action, allowing a business to sue for damages.
The Senate rolled out a new regulatory overhaul bill – its fifth in the five years Republicans have been in charge. This one, Senate Bill 453, resurrects unsuccessful provisions from previous years and adds some new ones.
The bill’s sponsors said it would further shed unnecessary restrictions, including outdated, expensive and duplicated requirements that they say distract regulators from protecting the environment and the public.
One of those provisions has proven controversial each time it has come up: directing the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources to waive civil penalties when companies request audits or disclose environmental threats they have discovered. The idea is to encourage them to come forward without fear of punishment. Some environmentalists say it could let polluters off the hook.
Other renewed legislation from past sessions includes repealing the requirement for annual energy audits in state offices, and getting rid of bans on cursing on the highway and refusing to relinquish a telephone party line in an emergency.
New provisions include exploring improved recycling for computers and televisions, and making it easier to use old industrial sites that have been deemed safe.
Bill filing deadlines
Senate: 3 p.m. Thursday for most bills.
House: April 8 for most proposals, excluding budget and tax bills.
Of note: Legislators have a number of ways to get around deadlines. And some bills – adjournment resolutions, for example – don’t have deadlines.