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PSN on August 9, 2007 - 7:52am
North Carolina had a session with important victories for working families, but the hands of energy and insurance lobbies ended up diluting the environmental and health-care reforms passed in the end.
Election Reform: Beginning with a new ethics law passed in the wake of corruption scandals involving the former Speaker, this session marked some major improvements in democracy for North Carolina:
- In a major victory for improving voting rights, HB 91 will now allow voters to register and vote on the same day during the early voting period up until the Saturday before the regular election day.
- The legislature also approved HB 1517, publicly funded "Voter-Owned Elections" covering the Commissioner of Insurance, State Auditor and Superintendent of Public Instruction-- joining North Carolina's successful public financing of state judicial elections. The legislature also gave the town of Chapel Hill the right to implement public financing locally.
- A bill to have North Carolina approve the National Popular Vote compact to award the state's Presidential votes to the winner of the popular vote passed the House, but didn't come to a final vote in the Senate.
Working Families: The North Carolina General Assembly also approved a 3.5% refundable Earned Income Tax Credit, a benefit for 825,000 working North Carolinians. North Carolina has been a leader for years on fighting predatory lending and the legislature enacted three new anti-predatory lending laws:
- HB 1374 makes the foreclosure process fairer and protects homeowners from abusive mortgage loan servicing,
- HB 1817 protects home buyers from predatory lending practices, and
- HB 947 protects tenants who live in properties going through foreclosure.
Health Care: The final state budget included NC Kid's Care, a program to cover 38,000 currently uninsured children beginning in 2008. Children in families up to 300% of the poverty line will receive subsidized care based on a sliding scale tied to family income. The state also took over the costs of Medicaid previously shouldered by local governments, freeing up that money for schools and other local needs.
Unfortunately, the high-risk health care pool approved by the legislature does not require the insurance companies to contribute to its cost, giving those companies an incentive to push their sickest consumers into the public high-risk system. And a new mental-health parity law, while an important advance, was restricted to only nine mental illnesses.
Energy & Environment: While the state became the first legislature in the Southeast to mandate that 12.5% of energy used to produce electricity come from renewable sources, the bill was amended to allow greater profits for those utilities when they build new coal and nuclear plants as well, a very mixed bag for environmentalists. The state did approve a bill effectively banning new hog farm "lagoons," offering help to farmers installing new technologies to deal with hog waste.
A number of bills were thankfully defeated, including holding a constitutional referendum on banning gay marriage and a bill that would have blocked communities from creating publicly-owned broadband systems. Unfortunately, transportation funding solutions also went nowhere this session and reforms of the death penalty and bans on school bullying failed as well.