7/27/13 General Assembly heads home

General Assembly heads home
Session ends with final push to pass flurry of bills
By Michael Biesecker The Associated Press The Times-News 7/27/13  
Reprinted with permission. 

   RALEIGH — North Carolina lawmakers headed home Friday after late-night and early-morning sessions that saw a final push to pass Republican-backed bills capping what all sides agree was one of the most transformational legislative sessions in state history.

   The House adjourned shortly before noon, after the Senate’s 2 a.m. adjournment.

   The last bills to win approval included a sweeping measure loosening environmental regulations, legislation allowing new restrictions on abortion providers and numerous changes to state elections laws that critics say are designed to help GOP lawmakers retain power.

   Items left on the table included an effort to speed up fracking for natural gas and a bill that Republican Gov. Pat McCrory wanted, to remake the state Department of Commerce as a public/private partnership focused on job creation.

   McCrory now has 30 days to either sign the bills on his desk or allow them to become law without his signature. At a media conference at the governor’s mansion after the adjournment, McCrory expressed concern about two bills he said may trigger his first vetoes — a measure requiring state employers to electronically verify the immigration status of those they hire and a bill requiring those applying for public assistance to first pass a drug test.

   On the whole, however, McCrory said he is “very pleased” with the session, which he said accomplished 20 of the 22 objectives he laid out at the start of his term in January. He confirmed he would sign the voting changes into law, as well as the bill many see as a betrayal of his campaign pledge not to support additional restrictions on abortion providers.

   “We’ve had more reform in this state government in the last six months than this state has seen in the past 30 years,” McCrory said. “And now, more than ever, we need reform, because people in North Carolina are hurting and they continue to have a broken government we have to fix.”

   Democrats, environmental groups, voting rights advocates and many public educators all saw it differently.

   “We end this session knowing we did nothing to create jobs, we don’t have that prosperity,” said House Minority Leader Larry Hall, D-Durham. “We created a tax cut for the millionaires and raised the taxes on the least of these.”

   Republicans took control of the North Carolina Legislature in 2010 for the first time since Reconstruction and cemented full control of state government with the election of McCrory. That put them in prime position to implement a conservative platform focused on rewriting the tax code and rolling back government regulations they claim impeded prosperity.

   The GOP tax plan passed last week cuts taxes for corporations and reduces the state’s tiered personal income tax brackets into one flat 5.8 percent rate. Previously, high income earners paid the maximum 7.75 percent — meaning the biggest share of the new tax cuts go to the wealthy.

   Meanwhile, the $20.6 billion state budget that McCrory signed into law Friday included no cost-of-living raise for state employees, cut pay for teachers with graduate degrees, ended teacher tenure and included a measure that for the first time will allow taxpayer money to be used to pay tuition at private schools.

   The Legislature also passed measures that allow concealed handguns to be carried in bars, restaurants, parks and playgrounds. Armed volunteers will also be allowed into public schools as unpaid safety officers.