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Raleigh Roundup: bobcats and beers edition

Raleigh Roundup: bobcats and beers edition

With the new session of the North Carolina Legislature underway, a flurry of bills has been filed in both the House and Senate — more than 180 of them — as of Feb. 14. 

While not all will become law, some of them may. And while not all are notable, some of them are, and it’s the job of Haywood County’s legislative delegation — Rep. Mike Clampitt, R-Bryson City, Rep. Michele Presnell, R-Burnsville, and Sen. Jim Davis, R-Franklin — to represent the views of their constituency while in the legislature. 

Western North Carolina’s remaining legislator Kevin Corbin, R-Franklin, represents Macon, Clay, Graham and Cherokee counties, and deals with many of the same bills talked about in Haywood and Jackson counties as well. 

When talking about North Carolina House bills, one can’t not talk about the famous — or infamous — HB2, passed into law in 2016.  

But each year, House and Senate bills are numbered in the order in which they are filed, and this year’s HB2 is shaping up to be far less controversial — if passed in its current form, it would allow for disabled veterans to exclude 100 percent of the assessed value of their permanent residence from taxation, whereas currently only $45,000 can be excluded. The bill also includes a homestead exemption for the surviving spouse (who has not remarried) of an “emergency personnel officer” killed in the line of duty. Rep. Corbin is a sponsor of the bill, which remains in the Committee on State and Local Government. 

As for that other HB2 — the Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act, which removed anti-discrimination protection from LGBT people and stipulates that individuals in government buildings can only use restrooms that correspond to the gender on their birth certificates — opponents of the measure will want to adopt one of several new acronyms to rally around: SB25, HB78 or HB82  would repeal the so-called “bathroom bill” that became the subject of international ridicule and national scorn in 2016. Neither Presnell, Clampitt, Corbin nor Davis are listed as sponsors or primary sponsors on any of the repeal bills. 

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Another repeal of sorts lies in HB69, which would eliminate the need for a permit to carry a concealed handgun. Some Second Amendment supporters have called concealed carry a natural right and declared permitting requirements unconstitutional, summing up their cause with the popular “your person is your permit” slogan. Rep. Clampitt and Rep. Presnell are both sponsors of the bill, which is now in the Committee on the Judiciary II. 

“We have a constitutional right to carry concealed,” Presnell said. “Also, it is only the good guys who get their concealed carry permits. I have had mine for several years. Bad guys don’t get permits. They just carry concealed.”

A similar 2015 attempt to amend the N.C. constitution to eliminate permitting restrictions fell flat, leaving the ultimate fate of HB69 up in the air. 

Also up in the air — maybe — will be two new rescue helicopters for the State Highway Patrol. HB34 would appropriate $18.2 million for the purchase of the aircraft, $355,000 for training and $3.3 million for the operation thereof; the bill also states vaguely that one helicopter is to be stationed in the eastern part of the state, and one in the west. Clampitt is a sponsor of the bill, which has been referred to the Appropriations Committee. 

Of particular interest to Western North Carolinians is HB32, which has Presnell as a primary sponsor and Reps. Clampitt and Corbin as sponsors. The bill would grant limited immunity from civil liability to rescue squad volunteers certified by the National Ski Patrol System. Currently, the bill is in the Committee On Insurance.

The Clampitt-sponsored HB35 also ostensibly seeks to protect a group of North Carolina workers, but seems to hold a litany of unforeseen consequences. Titled as the “Protect North Carolina Workers Act,” this measure seeks to amend the definition of “employee” to specifically exclude farm workers, independent contractors and domestic help. 

Private employers with more than 24 employees are required to use the federal E-Verify system to ensure their employees are eligible to work in the United States; removing farm workers from the definition of “employees” effectively allows large agricultural operations to hire workers who lack legal authorization to work in this country. Primary sponsor Destin Hall, R-Lenoir, did not respond to multiple email requests for comment on this bill, which has been referred to the Committee on Commerce and Job Development.

Large businesses aren’t the only ones that will benefit from proposed legislation if HB61 becomes law. Small businesses calculating their North Carolina taxable income can already deduct from their adjusted gross income any number of items, including interest income from government, nonprofit and hospital financial investments, social security payments and some retirement benefits, among other things. HB61 is sponsored by Corbin and Clampitt and adds to that list $50,000 of net business income; the bill has been referred to the Finance Committee. 

Some legislators — especially former legislators — may also see reductions in their net business income if HB48 passes. Clampitt and Presnell are sponsors of this bill, which would restrict lawmakers and public servants from registering as lobbyists for a period of one year after leaving office; the current timetable is six months. The bill has been referred to the Committee on Rules, Calendar and Operations of the House and mirrors to some extent anti-lobbying restrictions proposed by President Trump. 

The timetable for municipal elections is also a topic of debate in HB64, which would change municipal elections in cities, towns, incorporated villages and special districts from odd-numbered years to even numbered years beginning in 2022. 

Voter turnout is much higher during even-numbered years, when state legislators, members of the U.S. Congress, and presidential candidates are also on the ballot, as opposed to odd years that only feature local officials. 

In 2016, the average voter turnout in the counties of Haywood, Jackson, Macon and Swain was 66.29 percent — owing largely to the presidential race. In 2014, when state legislators ran in those counties, average voter turnout was 44.32 percent; but in 2015 when many local officials ran, average turnout was just 19.52 percent. No WNC legislators are listed as sponsors of this bill, which is now fermenting in the Committee on State and Local Government. 

On the topic of fermentation, North Carolina is one of few states that allows brewers to distribute their own products at wholesale. That permission, however, does come with limits; brewers that produce more than 25,000 barrels per year must utilize a wholesaler, which can be a mixed bag. 

Although using a wholesaler allows brewers to focus more on brewing without managing the drivers and vehicles necessary for a distribution operation, it also cuts into profit margins and can affect product quality when beer sits in warehouses for an extended period of time. HB67 would amend General Statue 18-1104 to allow brewers to produce 100,000 barrels per year before they are forced to use a wholesaler. 

For comparison, the soon-to-open BearWaters brewery in Canton expects to produce 3,000 barrels a year, and their facility as configured would cap out at 11,000 barrels per year, according to owner Kevin Sandefur. 

Clampitt is a sponsor of this bill, which has been referred to the Committee on Alcoholic Beverage Control.

Proposed HB39 would reduce the number of members on the UNC board of governors from 32 to 24 in two phases. These members are elected by the legislature. Republicans like sponsor Clampitt support the change on the basis of efficiency, but Democrats are afraid that it will lead to a lack of diversity. This disagreement has led to a lot of contention over the bill, which has already seen several changes as has been re-referred to the Committee on Education and Higher Education.

A series of unusual joint resolutions have also made their way through the legislature, demanding what’s called an “Article V” convention. 

Article V of the U.S. Constitution states that Congress shall propose amendments to the Constitution whenever two-thirds of the U.S. House and U.S. Senate call for them. 

Alternatively, two-thirds of state legislatures can ask for a convention to propose Constitutional Amendments by submitting an application calling for one. Illinois, Kentucky and New Jersey, for example, made just such an application in February 1861 to attempt to resolve the national dispute over human slavery. 

North Carolina first did so in 1965 when the state proposed allowing states with bi-cameral legislatures the option of utilizing “factors other than population” in apportioning one legislative house as long as state voters approved. 

Nothing ever came of it. 

Currently, 28 states including North Carolina have submitted applications for an Article V convention to consider a balanced budget amendment; for such a convention to occur, 34 states would need to apply. 

Three separate resolutions call for another application to be made, this time 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.”

Clampitt is a signatory to one of the competing resolutions, all of which are primarily sponsored by Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Spruce Pine, and Sen. Joyce Krawiec, R-Kernersville.

Regardless of which resolution — if any — comes to pass, it will also face competition from HB52, which is sponsored by a Republican but has Democratic support, notably Asheville Rep. Susan C. Fisher. HB52 seeks to rescind all existing Article V applications made by the legislature.  

It does so by citing Arthur J. Goldberg, a former associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court appointed by President Kennedy. Goldberg opined that such a convention could propose sweeping changes to the Constitution, creating “imminent peril” for the established rights of citizens of the country, and the state.  

But the state legislature doesn’t always occupy itself with such grand ideas dealing with the very underpinnings of government; HB74 would make the bobcat the official state cat of North Carolina, but if a separate bill passes, you won’t be able to motor around town with one sticking its head out your driver’s side window and tongue flapping in the breeze — House Bill 73 would make it unlawful to operate a motor vehicle while holding any live animal in your lap; violators could face a $100 fine.

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