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Hunting on Sundays

What the bill says: The Sunday hunting ban would be lifted on private land. (House bill 640)

Duly noted: Sunday hunting was historically banned all together, but there’s been a piecemeal attempt to roll back back the ban. Archery, skeet and falconry hunting are legal on Sundays already. 

This bill would allow hunting with firearms, but only on private land — not on national forests or game lands. Also, you couldn’t hunt within 300 yards of a church.

There have been various unsuccessful attempts to lift the Sunday hunting ban in recent years, but this time it appears the bill’s chances are good.

Among Raleigh lawmakers, Democrats are more likely to support the Sunday hunting ban, while Republicans are more likely to want to repeal it.

N.C. Rep. Michele Presnell, R-Burnsville, is a sponsor of the bill to lift the Sunday hunting ban. The bill passed the House and is with the Senate.

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Why be for it: Supporters of Sunday hunting have a litany of reasons. For starters, North Carolina is one of only 11 states that ban Sunday hunting. Hunters often venture to South Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee to hunt on Sundays, and that’s an economic loss to North Carolina. The idea of banning certain activities on Sundays due to religious reasons is antiquated. Hunting is declining as a pastime, so Sunday hunting would give parents more chances to take their kids hunting.

Why be against it: Those against Sunday hunting cite tradition and reverence for Sunday religious services, as well as providing balance among various forms of recreation.

N.C. Rep. Joe Sam Queen, D-Waynesville, voted against the bill for Sunday hunting, his support of hunting heritage and gun rights not withstanding. A letter explaining his position to a constituent stated: “Those who wish to attend services at their respective place of worship are not burdened by the echoes of firearms; those wishing to participate in our outdoor heritage of horseback riding activities will not worry about spooking their horse; and those who wish to simply enjoy nature on a hike or a picnic need not worry about providing distance to those hunting, one day out of seven.”

Abortion waiting period increased

What the bill says: The waiting period for an abortion would be increased from 24 to 72 hours. (House Bill 465)

Duly noted: The waiting period is waived if it would cause death or serious and irreversible bodily harm to the woman. There is no exception for rape.

North Carolina is one of 26 states that require a waiting period before a woman can get an abortion. A 24-hour waiting period is most common. Only Utah, South Dakota and Missouri have waiting periods of 72 hours. Oklahoma also has a bill pending that would extend its waiting period to 72 hours.

The bill passed the N.C. House largely along party lines — the GOP supports the measures, Democrats oppose it — and is with the Senate.

Why be for it: An abortion is an irreversible decision that should not be made in haste. The waiting period would ensure the woman has adequately weighed the implications and all other alternatives.

Why be against it: The law is essentially aimed at making abortions more difficult by putting up barriers. Mandatory waiting periods may present a hardship as they necessitate two trips to the health care provider.

No political activity in schools

What the bill says: Teachers and other school employees can’t engage in political activity during the work day or advocate “for or against issues of local, state or federal policy” using school resources. (Senate Bill 480)

Duly noted:  It is already illegal for any state employee to engage in political activity while on the clock or to use state equipment for political purposes. Teachers already couldn’t use their school email to send out invites to a political rally, nor could use a school-issued thumb tack to hang up a candidate flyer in the teachers’ bathroom. 

The bill stipulates that these same rules apply to any and all public school employees — state, local or otherwise. It passed the Senate.

The bill comes after four years of Republican lawmakers being pummeled by public education advocates. Teachers have organized rallies, petition drives and public forums criticizing the Republican leadership in Raleigh for policies that harm public schools, although none of the planning, coordinating or messaging should have been happening during school hours.

Why be for it: Schools should not be grounds for political activity or campaigning. The bill protects school employees from feeling coerced to participate in political activities, either by unspoken peer pressure or direct instruction by their superiors, and it offers freedom from being subjected to political posturing in the schools.

Principals and superintendents would be exempt, and thus would still be free to publicly advocate for school policies and funding while on the clock. Or, if the school system assigns a particular employee to advocate for school interests as part of their job description, that person is also exempt. 

Why be against it: Lawmakers seem to be singling out teachers with this bill. It also creates confusion and fear.

Macon County Superintendent Chris Baldwin said the bill as written seems to be over-reaching.

“Even school board issues are political. Could they come to school board meetings and speak up for a curriculum change?” Baldwin asked. “What political activities would they be barred from participating in?”

If a lead teacher is giving a Power Point on school test scores and off-handedly says, “All this standardized testing is really stressful for the kids.” Would that be considered advocating against a state policy?

Could a teacher chaperoning a school dance on a Friday night say to another teacher: “I sure wish the county commissioners would give us the money to fix the gym floor next year so kids won’t trip on the warped spot,” as it could be perceived as advocating for a local policy issue.

Could a teacher email her husband from her work email after school to ask: “Can you get the kids from soccer tonight? I am attending that teacher salary protest and won’t be done in time.”

As for teachers that work long days, or come back in for evening programs at the school, “When would they be considered off duty?” Baldwin asked.

Could a teacher talk to a reporter about education issues during their planning period?

Sharing money given to schools

What the bill says: Public school systems have to share a portion of their grants, gifts, trust funds and other donations with charter schools, unless the grants were stipulated up front as being for specific projects at specific schools only. (Senate Bill 456)

Duly noted: Under current law, charter schools get a cut of state and county funding based to how many students the charter school has. 

This bill would work the same way when it comes to grants, gifts and donations. The portion the charter school would get depends on how many students it serves in the county’s school system. If it serves 5 percent of the students from that county, it would get 5 percent of any grant.

Grants and donations wouldn’t have to be shared if the donor specifically asks that the school system to “use a separate fund to account for those funds,” according to the bill language.

Why be for it: Charter schools could only lay claim to a share of grants, gifts and donations of a general nature.

“It’s not the intent to grab PTA money,” said Eddie Goodall, director of the N.C. Public Charter Schools Association. “If it is restricted and they say it is not to be shared with charters, then it wouldn’t be.”

But otherwise it should be shared.

“If someone gives a grant to the school system for the benefit of education in that county, there is no logic in it not being shared with charters,” Goodall said. “We need to share funding more fairly.”

Goodall said he understands why traditional school systems don’t like cutting a check each month to the charter schools that draw students from their district, but ideally it would motivate the school system to improve.

“I am sure that for those who write the check every month it is like writing an alimony check. It is a check they wouldn’t be writing if they still had that kid,” Goodall said. “The idea is it will make them want to do something to earn that kid back.”

Why be against it: The bill could inadvertently siphon a portion of grants or donations intended for a specific school project to charter schools if the donor fails to stipulate specifically what the money is to be used for.

Jackson Schools Superintendent Mike Murray said Jackson schools shouldn’t have to turn over a share of grants and fundraising dollars to a charter school that doesn’t have the same accountability.

“We have absolutely no control over what the money would be spent on once we turned it over,” Murray said. “Why do I have to give money to folks who aren’t doing the things we are doing in a public school?”

Murray feared having to share grants would remove the incentive for going after them in the first place.

“It will be rewarding the competition,” he said.

He also questioned why charter schools wouldn’t have to share a portion of the grants they get with the public school system.

“We want to make sure we have a level playing field,” Murray said. “I understand school choice, but we are taking money away from the students who don’t have that choice. I don’t want to see much needed dollars being siphoned off public school funds.”

Prohibiting powdered alcohol

What the bill says: House Bill 290 prohibits the sale, possession or consumption of powdered alcohol and clarifies that the Administrative Procedure Act applies to certain actions taken by the ABC Commission. The bill had bipartisan support in the House and is now moving through the Senate. 

Duly noted: The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau approved the sale of powdered alcohol “Palcohol” earlier this year. The creator, Mark Phillips, has said he made the just-add-water pouch product for hikers, campers and other outdoor enthusiasts that may have a difficult time carrying around heavy bottles and cans. The single-use packets can be mixed with six ounces of water or any other liquid to make one drink, which would have 10 percent alcohol by volume.

Why be for it: Six states have already passed legislation banning the product. Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-New York, has introduced a bill to ban the sale and manufacturing of Palcohol nationwide. Opponents say the product could increase underage drinking and alcohol abuse. Schumer compared the pouch to the kid-friendly Kool-Aid drink. 

Critics also worry that a pouch is easier for people to conceal and bring to school, movie theaters, stadiums and other places where alcohol is prohibited. 

Why be against it: Phillips had adamantly defended his product, claiming it is no more dangerous that than the alcohol sold in every store. After a few off-the-cuff comments were published about sprinkling the product on food or snorting the product to get drunk, Phillips decided to test out that theory. He snorted palcohol to show that it was not an effective or quicker way to get drunk.

Partisan elections for statewide judicial candidates

What the bill says: House Bill 8 would restore partisan elections for Appeals Court judges and Supreme Court justice candidates. 

Duly noted: The law was changed in 2002 to make statewide judicial races nonpartisan, but Republicans want to go back to the way it was for 100 years prior to that change. Another bill was introduced to make local school board elections partisan too, but it didn’t make crossover. HB 8 passed the House and is currently in the Committee on Rules and Operations of the Senate. 

Why be for it: Rep. Michele Presnell, R-Burnsville, supports the bill, stating that many of her constituents had asked why there wasn’t a ‘R’ or ‘D’ next to the judge candidates on the ballot. She said many people didn’t know who to vote for without a party affiliation next to their names, especially since judicial judges can’t take a position on issues because they are supposed to be impartial. 

Why be against it: Several of the voting rights organizations don’t see the benefit of making more elections a partisan matter, especially for judges who are supposed to remain objective. Bob Phillips, executive director of Common Cause North Carolina, an organization that advocates for more open government, said the proposed legislation is a step backward.

Common Cause North Carolina is also concerned about the increase strain it will put on judicial candidates to raise big money during their campaigns and where that money will be coming from. The last thing candidates want to do is accept money from someone who may appear before them in a courtroom because it would cause a perception of bias. 

Law enforcement body and dash cams

What the bill says: House Bill 713 would make law enforcement body and dashboard camera recordings exempt from public record laws. Under this bill, recordings from body or dash cameras would be considered criminal investigation records, which don’t have to be released while an investigation is ongoing. The bill received bi-partisan support in the House before moving over to the Senate on April 27. 

Duly noted: Law enforcement vehicle dashboard and body cameras have been a hot button issue on the news recently as claims of police brutality and misconduct are popping up all over the country. Such footage could protect an officer from being wrongfully accused of misconduct and could help solve the “he said, she said” issues that arise during any incident involving law enforcement. Since the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, and other cases, more agencies are considering the use of body cameras as an extra precaution. 

Why be for it: Supporters of the bill say that some dash and body videos shouldn’t be released because what is said or shown on them may bring retribution against witnesses or compromise a case. Some also see it as a privacy issue for alleged victims and offenders. Body cameras especially could deter someone from calling law enforcement if they thought their domestic violence complaint video would be openly available to the public. Public viewing of footage could also hinder the jury selection process.

Why be against it: Opponents of the bill say that a body or dashboard camera should be considered a public record just like any other incident report. In a recent column, Amanda Martin, General Counsel for the North Carolina Press Association, said a body cam recording would be the most honest look at what transpired.  

“They offer an un-edited and un-editorialized account of an event,” she said. 

Martin said the “invasion of privacy” argument doesn’t hold up because the public doesn’t have any expectation of privacy when walking or driving on public streets. 

But if you’re looking for another reason these recordings should be public, Martin said it is taxpayer money that pays for those cameras an its taxpayer money that pays the salaries of those officers. 

“If law enforcement cameras record what transpired, the public should be able to see the videos taken,” she said. 

Opt out option for magistrate judges

What the bill says: Senate Bill 2 would allow magistrate judges to opt out of performing weddings and registers of deeds from issuing licenses if they sincerely have religious beliefs against doing so. However, if a judge recuses himself or herself from performing a ceremony, the recusal is in effect for at least six months or until the recusal is rescinded in writing. The bill was sponsored by Sen. Philip Berger, the president pro tem of the Senate, and was in response to the legalization of gay marriage in the state.

Duly noted: Last October, a federal North Carolina judge struck down the state’s ban same-sex marriage. That ruling opened the doors for gay couples to get married, but many magistrate judges have said they couldn’t perform same-sex marriages because of their religious beliefs. Swain County Magistrate Judge Gilbert Breedlove resigned just 10 days after the ruling before he had even been asked to perform such a ceremony. In addition to serving as a magistrate for 24 years, Breedlove also served as a Baptist pastor for 17 years and said his belief in the Bible wouldn’t allow him to marry two men or two women. 

The federal ruling stated that magistrates or registers of deeds who refuse to issue a marriage license or perform a ceremony would be in violation of the 14th Amendment and the action would be considered discrimination.

Why be for it: Supporters of the bill claim that government employees shouldn’t be forced to marry same sex couples or issue a license if it is against their personal religious beliefs. 

Why be against it: On the other hand, some legislators, including Sen. Jeff Jackson, said the bill only undermines marriage equality and legitimizes discrimination. Looking past the argument of whether magistrates have the duty or just the power to perform civil marriage ceremonies, it is hard for legislators to ignore the day-to-day problems it will cause throughout the state. Jeff Thigpen, Register of Deeds in Guilford County, told legislators that the state already has a magistrate judge deficit and if magistrates are given an opt-out option it is likely there won’t be enough magistrates to perform any marriages. 

Wayne Rash with the North Carolina Association of Register of Deeds pointed out that 42 counties have three or fewer magistrate judges and eight of those only have one magistrate. That shortage has local government officials scratching their heads wondering what they will do if their one magistrate recuses him or herself.



Bill bloopers

Many North Carolinians are focused on important legislation that may affect their lives, like healthcare, education, social services and taxes. But many people never get to see the minutia that gets passed through the General Assembly. Some bills are silly at best, others are insulting at worst and some prove that common sense must not be that common if we need a law to keep us from doing it. Here are a few of the outlandish bills that made crossover.

• House Bill 792 would make posting “revenge” porn online a felony.

• Senate Bill 524 would require students to learn new Founding Principles in school, including: constitutional limitations on government power to tax and spend and prompt payment of public debt; strong defense and supremacy of civil authority over military; and money with intrinsic value, or the gold standard.

• Senate Bill 455 would ban state government from contracting with companies tied to Iran’s energy sector. 

• House Bill 158 would make it illegal for people under 18 to use tanning equipment.

• House Bill 601 would allow the sale of deerskins.

• House Bill 554 would make it illegal to possess, sell, breed or transfer dangerous animals such as gray wolves, lions, tigers and hyenas.

• House Bill 161 would make the bobcat the official state cat.

• Senate Bill 423 and House Bill 407 would allow foster children to have sleepovers, play sports and participate in other activities.

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