NC Legislature adjourns for year after ethics bill

North Carolina State Legislative Office Building (Image source: Wikimedia Commons)

July 10, 2010 4:31:26 AM PDT
The North Carolina General Assembly finished its regular work for the year just before dawn Saturday after spending the overnight hours approving compromise legislation on ethics, campaign finance and government reform and another on taking DNA samples from criminal suspects. The House and Senate gaveled down their two-year session at 5:32 a.m. with a ceremony inside the Legislative Building, completing a work schedule that began more than 19 hours earlier Friday morning. Gov. Beverly Perdue now has 30 days to act on dozens of bills approved in the session's final days. Barring a veto override or special session, the Legislature won't meet again until a new group of 170 elected lawmakers arrive in January.

The two sides completed their most pressing work of their past eight weeks in Raleigh -- separate from the budget -- shortly after 3 a.m., when the House gave unanimous approval to a 29-page ethics and government reform bill. The Senate earlier approved the bill with only one no vote.

The measure toughens penalties for illegal campaign donations above $10,000, requires board and commission members to account for campaign fundraising activities for elected officials who appointed them and expands personnel information that must be released to the public about state employees.

"It doesn't do everything that either body would have wished ... but it will continue to change the culture of the institutions," said Rep. Rick Glazier, D-Cumberland, a co-author of the House bill.

The measure is the latest response by lawmakers and Perdue to a series of corruption and campaign finance investigations over the past decade. Officials also have examined activities surrounding former Gov. Mike Easley and his campaign. Easley hasn't been charged with crimes.

Democrats in both chambers reached compromises on a pair of economic incentives bills that among other items expands the size of tax breaks to the film industry, creates preferential tax treatment for green-friendly tenants in industrial parks and attempts to recruit a handful of unnamed companies by commerce officials who could bring 1,200 jobs to the state. The two chambers finalized the bills with separate votes early Saturday.

The Senate and House also voted separately on final legislation requiring police to take DNA samples from people when they are arrested on serious charges ranging from murder and rape to violent assaults and cyberstalking.

Attorney General Roy Cooper had sought the requirement, saying having the samples in the state DNA database would help solve dozens of crimes by locating repeat offenders. Convicted felons already must give samples.

"Hopefully one of our first hits will exonerate someone in prison currently who has been wrongly imprisoned," Rep. Wil Neumann, R-Gaston, one of the bill sponsors, said before the bill was approved 83-21.

The bill ultimately would require a person's sample be automatically removed from the state's DNA database when the suspect is acquitted or charges are dismissed. But several House members said requiring the sample upon arrest amounts to unreasonable search and seizure.

The discussion became racially charged after 2 a.m. as some lawmakers said more black residents would face the demand because they are too often wrongly targeted.

"Black people will be disproportionately infringed upon because we're disproportionately affected," said Rep. Angela Bryant, D-Nash, who is black.

Rep. Bill Faison, D-Orange, countered that the bill is not racial because people of all races commit crimes. "Our society should be relieved of people being robbed, murdered and raped and where we have technology ... we should use that," he said.

On party-line votes, the Democratic-led Senate and House gave final approvals to new rules corporations must follow to report political activities, in light of a U.S. Supreme Court decision that removed a prohibition on corporate giving to support or oppose a candidate. The measure requires companies and unions to disclose how much they spend on television commercials and mass mailings.

Friday's delays were in sharp contrast to the rest of this year's budget-adjustment session. For the first time since 2003, the Legislature passed and the governor signed a budget bill approved before the new fiscal year began in July. And the number of calendar days since the session began May 12 are the fewest since 1996.

Lawmakers approved a nearly $19 billion budget June 30 that attempted to save public school teachers' jobs this fall and temper reductions in the University of North Carolina system. Republicans who voted in the minority against the budget argued it didn't prepare the state enough for a $3 billion shortfall next year and contained too few tax breaks for small business.

Lawmakers also gave final approval to reforms of the Alcoholic Beverage Control system and banned computer-based sweepstakes games showing up in parlors and Internet cafes statewide. Perdue will have until Aug. 9 to consider these and dozens of other bills awaiting her signature.

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