Tuesday at the General Assembly
By The Associated Press
– Heading into final budget negotiations, Gov. Mike Easley met privately with Senate leader Marc Basnight, D-Dare, and House Speaker Jim Black, D-Mecklenburg. The governor released a follow-up letter to the legislative leaders telling them that the budget needs to increase supplemental spending to poor schools by more than 50 percent. He also said the state can’t "simply eliminate the services" for older citizens, children and the disabled. The Senate budget would reduce or eliminate health coverage for about 65,000 residents. There was no mention of a lottery in his letter. The House also released names of the members of a budget conference committee. Like the Senate, only Democrats made the list. Not a single Republican has voted so far for the Senate or House versions of the budget.
– Several dozen advocates and students took their pleas for more money dedicated to improving poor schools to state lawmakers, holding a rally and visiting legislators’ offices. Proponents have endorsed a two-year, $374 million package for such schools, but Senate and House budget proposals fall far short of that amount. "We’re going to keep fighting till we reach our goal," said Rep. Doug Yongue, D-Scotland, chairman of the House appropriations subcommittee on education. The debate centers on the Leandro school financing case, which is named for one of the original plaintiffs in the 1994 lawsuit seeking more money to educate poor students. The state Supreme Court has affirmed lower court rulings in the case that say North Carolina’s constitution guarantees every student a "sound basic education" provided by the state.
– A bill headed to Gov. Mike Easley’s desk is designed to help police officers go after predators of children on the Internet. The General Assembly gave its final approval to the bill with a unanimous vote by the Senate to bill changes made by the House. The bill makes it a felony for people to solicit sex from a person they believe to be a minor, including police officers posing as children. The existing law allows a person to be charged only with a misdemeanor. The measure sought by Attorney General Roy Cooper also requires a convicted online predator to provide DNA samples for the state’s crime database and to register as a sex offender.
– The Senate gave its tentative OK to legislation clarfiying the hit-and-run law so that a motorist couldn’t change places with a passenger to avoid a conviction. The bill states that a driver would be convicted of a crime if after an accident the motorist allows or agrees to let the car be moved from the scene without an officer’s permission. The measure was prompted by the death of Tar Heel Sports Network commentator Stephen Gates in 2003. Gates was struck and killed by an approaching car on an interstate ramp while he examined a flat tire. The measure, which has some exceptions, could receive final Senate approval as early as Wednesday.
Jet Ski ages
– The Senate voted 47-1 in favor of a bill that would raise the minimum age to operate a personal watercraft from 12 to 14. The bill would require users of Jet Skis and similar personal watercraft who are 14 and 15 to either share the craft with someone who is at least 18 or have completed an approved boating safety education course. Children who are 12 before Nov. 1 would be grandfathered into the law. The bill now returns to the House, which approved the measure in April and must decide whether it accepts the Senate’s changes.
– The Senate sent a bill to the state House that expands from three to nine the number of toll-road projects that could be studied and built in North Carolina. The measure also would accelerate construction of the 2.4-mile Herbert C. Bonner Bridge over Oregon Inlet on the Outer Banks, which lawmakers called unsafe. The most viable option was to replace the bridge, which would not be a toll bridge. The North Carolina Turnpike Authority agreed this year to study four projects but under existing law can’t build them all. Supporters say increasing the number of potential projects would make it easier to complete critical highway jobs while a cash drain at the Department of Transportation is expected to reduce the number of highway contracts this year. Any project approved for construction would be financed with bonds repaid with collected tolls. There are now no toll roads in North Carolina.
– The Senate sent to the House a bill that provides tax breaks to the film industry to help North Carolina better compete with other states and countries. Supporters have said the state has lost up to 2,000 jobs as projects were recruited away from North Carolina, and that more jobs are at stake without incentives. The Senate approved an amendment that caps a tax credit for a feature film at $7.5 million. Senate Republican leader Phil Berger of Rockingham County said the bill sets a bad precedent, favoring the film industry over textiles, furniture, and other industries in the state.
– A joint legislative committee to examine the unresolved race for state schools superintendent meets for the first time Wednesday afternoon. It’s been more than seven months since the November election and there’s still no winner. The General Assembly ultimately could vote whether Democrat June Atkinson or Republican Bill Fletcher should take office.
"They need a pool of people who will actually show up, and the people in this age group will actually show up." – Rep. Paul Stam, R-Wake, in support of a bill that would raise the age exemption from serving on a jury from 65 to 72. The bill passed and now returns to the Senate, which backed a version which raised the exemption to 70.
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