Legislative Update - June 23

June 23, 2014

Greetings, 

The North Carolina “Short Session” is nearing its end. Below is a summary of some of the things that have happened since last week’s update.

Coal Ash Management

The latest version of the coal ash bill that has been maneuvering its way through the Senate has been referred to as a step in the right direction by some environmentalists. The bill would create a nine member Coal Ash Management Commission to review and approve decisions regarding the prioritization and closure of the 33 ponds in North Carolina. The sites, based on their perceived risks to citizens and the environment, would have to be closed in intervals of 5 years, with high-risk sites being the first that must be closed by 2019. Currently four sites have been identified as high-priority sites, those sites include: Riverbend; Dan River; Asheville; and Sutton locations. Duke Energy officials have stressed the difficulty the company would have in adhering to such a strict schedule. Their concerns notwithstanding, the bill has received a high degree of support in the Senate, the bill is expected to be heard on the floor of the Senate next week.

It should be noted, however, that this bill has several potential loopholes that may warrant more consideration. For one, the issue of who will foot the bill for this endeavor has not been settled. There is a growing movement that demands that electricity consumers not be held responsible for cleanup costs. Though the bill includes a moratorium on rate increases, this measure is simply a formality, as it only last for a period of six months, which would leave the door open for future rate increases. My position on the issue has not changed, that is, I still believe that Duke Energy and its shareholders should absorb all of the cost associated with cleaning up their mess.

NC Commerce Protection Act

This week the Senate passed a tort reform bill that will create a more favorable legal climate for businesses in North Carolina. The bill has a number of provisions in it, some of which could have devastating consequences for consumers. For example, if the bill becomes law, it creates a rebuttable presumption in court that safeguards a pharmaceutical company, if the company has warned against previously cited side effects and has followed all FDA rules and regulations. The bill will also protect “innocent successor" companies, which are companies who have purchased other companies, in related asbestos litigation. I am concerned that the bill will reduce the legal recourse consumers can take against corporations whose products may have caused injury or ailment. The bill will head to the House Judiciary committee for consideration, where it is expected to be heard next week.

Commerce Privatization Bill has passed the Legislature

HB 1031, North Carolina Economic Development Partnership Modifications, is on its way to be signed by the Governor after a favorable vote on Wednesday. The bill’s primary purpose is to allow the NC Department of Commerce to operate as a public-private partnership, which would authorize non-profits to contract with the state. It is believed that this bill will spur economic development statewide. The version that will reach the Governor’s desk will not include a controversial film grant program that the Senate majority preferred to replace the incentives program that expires this year.  However, that measure has made its way into the budget debate. 

Agricultural Fairs will not be exempt

Last week a bill that would have exempted county fairs from imposing a sales tax on admission tickets failed in the House. The bill, House bill 1201, which was seen as a way to help small organizations, like the Chatham County Agricultural Fair retain more of their receipts, was deemed by some legislators as a way to skirt the sweeping tax laws that began to go into effect last year. The House’s failure to pass this legislation should be seen as an egregious oversight. This failure to act is likely to cause some of North Carolina’s small fairs, like the Historic Agricultural fair in Chatham County, to succumb to increased economic pressure.

Please continue to contact my office to share your concerns on issues or if my office can be of any assistance to you.  Thank you for allowing me to represent you in Raleigh.

Sincerely,

Senator Valerie P. Foushee

North Carolina House Senate

District 23: Chatham & Orange Counties

Valerie.Foushee[at]ncleg[dot]net

919.733.5804 (o) 919.754.3268 (f) 919.942.2661 (h)

Just so you know...

You can listen live to the chamber sessions, committee meetings, and press conferences on the General Assembly website: www.ncleg.net. Once on the site, click on “audio” and select House Chamber, Senate Chamber, Appropriations Committee Room, Finance Committee Room, or Press Conference Room.

Office hours...

My office will be staffed Monday through Thursday during the week 8 AM until 5 PM.

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