The General Assembly adjourned its 2012 session last Tuesday, but not before it overrode the three latest vetoes issued by the governor. The decisions to reject the governor’s vetoes without attempting any compromise cleared the way for implementation of a mostly bad state budget; continued racial bias in our courts; and fast-tracked drilling for natural gas, despite environmental uncertainty and the objections of many people who own the deposits. The governor has a month to consider the remaining bills sent to her by the legislature. She can choose to sign them, let them go into law without her signature or veto them.
North Carolina House Minority Leader Joe Hackney issued the following statement on behalf of our caucus. I share his disappointment about what we have seen over the past two years.
“Republicans came into office with a promise to create jobs and make North Carolina a better place to live. We end this two-year session instead farther behind than when they started. Their unemployment rate is now the fourth-worst in the nation. They fired more than 6,000 educators last year. Speaker Tillis admits at least 3,000 more will lose their jobs this year as additional cuts go into place. They chose to hand out millions in tax breaks for the wealthy while cutting school budgets even deeper. North Carolina continues to regress under this legislature. The people of North Carolina will hold them accountable for their irresponsible choices.”
A budget opposed by most Democrats in the General Assembly went into place last week despite the governor objections after the legislature overturned the governor’s veto of the budget bill (House Bill 950). The decision increases the total cut to K-12 schools over the past two years to $620 million — about the same as the annual budget for Guilford County Schools, the third-largest school system in the state with 73,000 students and 10,000 employees. Those deep cuts, along with the removal of money to compensate the living victims of the state’s now-defunct forced sterilization program, persuaded most Democrats to oppose the budget. Most hoped that upholding the veto would allow the governor to negotiate with the legislature to return more money for public schools and universities. The budget also included a 1.2 percent raise for teachers and state employees, which I strongly support. I wanted the governor and the budget writers to negotiate a deal that would have meant more money for raises or fewer layoffs.
A legislative super majority voted this week to override a veto of a bill that allows racial bias in death penalty cases to continue with no remedy. The new law (Senate Bill 416) repeals a three-year-old law in North Carolina that allowed death row defendants to have their sentences changed to life without the possibility of parole if they could prove racism played a part in their trial or sentencing. A Cumberland County judge recently found evidence of racism throughout the state’s courts, reinforcing the findings of an academic study that looked at jury selection, sentencing, the race of victims and other factors. The judge changed a death penalty sentence to life in prison without parole for an inmate whose lawyers proved his case had been infected by racism. I argued on the floor of the House that while we need the death penalty, which I support, we must make certain that no bias nor prejudice factor into the application of it. We must ensure that even latent discrimination does not affect a judgment of the court.
Fast-tracked natural gas exploration can now start in North Carolina without significant study. The legislature rejected a veto by the governor to put the bill in place. Accessing the relatively small deposit of gas would require the use of technologies — hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” and horizontal drilling — that had been illegal in North Carolina. A state report mandated by the legislature recommended significant additional study before allowing drilling to go forward, but proponents of the industry want to speed up the process. Opponents argue that fracking can contaminate water supplies, pollute the air and create other wastes that are difficult to dispose of safely. The new legislation (Senate Bill 820) allows gas companies to extract some landowners’ gas without their permission and to use eminent domain to take people’s private property for pipelines and facilities. Several proposed amendments intended to forbid trespassing by the companies were rejected. This could affect property owners in Anson County. While I support the exploration of energy sources in our state I contend it must be safely and under NO circumstances should private companies be permitted to take YOUR land here in our district.
I am excited about the opportunity to spend more time at home in Anson and Union counties, and to be more able to readily assist you and others. I hope you will call on me if you have an issue with state government or need information. Thank you for your interest and support. I look forward to continuing to work on your behalf in Raleigh.