N.C. Legislature returns to work in hopes of adjourning this week
By GARY D. ROBERTSON, Associated Press Writer
RALEIGH, N.C. — Legislators returned Monday after a week off, with House members tackling dozens of bills that stand between them and possible adjournment for the year.
The House put more than 75 bills on its calendar, working until midnight and giving final legislative approval to leverage hundreds of millions of federal dollars for road-building. Gov. Mike Easley has said he likes that bill, but he may be inclined to veto another measure heading for his desk that would ease restrictions on hiring teachers from other states.
A massive fishing license rewrite bill approved by the House is now heading to Easley, as are measures restricting autopsy photos and raising penalties for people involved in cockfighting.
There’s also the issue of the lottery. The Senate, which will reconvene floor work Tuesday morning, left town Aug. 13 at least one vote short of passing a lottery bill that would devote its net profits to education.
House Speaker Jim Black, D-Mecklenburg, said he’s aiming to complete the chamber’s work for the year by early Wednesday morning. Black added he won’t push through outstanding bills just to go home quickly.
"We have to be careful about a lot of things going down the fast track," he told reporters. Otherwise, Black said he would hold back considering some bills until the General Assembly reconvenes next spring.
That seems to fall in line with the wishes of Senate leader Marc Basnight, D-Dare, who said he doesn’t want to do any more work this year beyond the election and getting his chamber to sign off on a few more bills.
The House backlog comes after senators passed scores of bills during two lengthy floor sessions earlier this month. The Legislature also plans to meet in a historic joint session Tuesday to choose a winner in the unresolved election for superintendent of public instruction.
The full House on Monday gave its approval to a series of changes designed to keep Social Security numbers out of the hands of identity thieves by restricting how businesses and government agencies collect the information. The Senate must agree to the changes before adjournment.
It could be one of several items that remain until next spring, including an overhaul of lobbying regulations and drunken-driving laws and restrictions on cold medicines that contain an ingredient to make methamphetamine.
The creation of a first-in-the-nation "innocence commission" to examine allegations of wrongful convictions has passed the House but has yet to clear the Senate. The House also has yet to consider a compromise to make some changes to the workers’ compensation law.
The Senate judiciary committee also met Monday afternoon to recommend a bill that makes more than 100 changes to repair and clarify technical problems to state laws. The 60-page bill also would make some substantive changes, including allowing any District Court or Superior Court judges to preside at marriage ceremonies.
The Legislature over the years has approved bills designed to allow a judge to officiate at a family member’s wedding, to the consternation of some lawmakers.
"A lot of our judges don’t want that," said Sen. Martin Nesbitt, D-Buncombe. But the committee rejected an amendment by Nesbitt that would have removed that marriage authority.
The House also approved Monday night its portion of the traditional session-ending bill of appointments to state boards and commissions. Another bill designed to crack down on gang violence in the state passed the House but may not have time to pass the Senate.
But the House rejected a measure that would have raised significantly the per-day penalties for businesses and local governments that break some state environmental rules.
At least five Democrats and all 21 Republicans in the Senate oppose the lottery — enough for a majority to block its passage.
The North Carolina Association of Educators has been running radio ads in recent days designed to persuade three Republicans to support a lottery.
The Legislature approved a $17.2 billion budget for this year before taking the break so up to 30 members could attend a national legislative conference in Seattle.
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