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May 15, 2021

Local legislators back bills ranging from new restrictions on sex offenders to Holocaust education

By Natalie Anderson
natalie.anderson@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — Since the start of the legislative session, local lawmakers have signed on as the primary sponsors of 40 bills, with the most recent ones related to health care practices, economic development and debt settlement prohibition.

Local lawmakers’ bills are still in the early stages of the legislative process, currently making their way through various committees. The Post caught up with lawmakers to discuss the most recently filed measures.

Rep. Harry Warren, R-67

The senior lawmaker is the primary sponsor of more than a dozen bills currently moving through the General Assembly. In addition to bills related to domestic violence statutes, funding for the N.C. Transportation Museum and legal immigration status filed in early February, Warren has since sponsored half a dozen bills, with longtime Rep. Julia Howard, R-77, alongside him on two of them.

House Bill 84 is the result of Warren receiving a call from a sergeant in the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office, who pointed out gaps in the current law regarding premises restrictions for certain sex offenders. Warren said state law doesn’t include people convicted of sexual exploitation of a child among the sex offenders restricted from being within certain areas. This bill would place those people under the same premises restrictions as other sex offenders.

House Bill 70 would incentivize the rehabilitation of historic educational buildings to allow those buildings to continue to serve educational purposes. This bill would allow developers to utilize the state’s historic rehabilitation tax credits investment with such buildings as long as a certain portion of the building is reserved for some educational purpose. It could include a library or planetarium, for example. As written, the base rate for tax credits would be 15% for structure expenses up to $10 million. There would be a 10% rate for structures with expenses between $10-20 million. The bill also includes 5% tax bonuses depending on the development’s location and initial purpose.

Warren said the Faith Elementary School building comes to mind as an example of a building that could be rehabilitated under the bill. He added the bill is relevant to Rowan County due to the ongoing conversation about school consolidation, which could result in vacant buildings that turn into “eyesores” in the community

Both Warren and Howard are sponsoring a bill to establish an ApSeed pilot program in Forsyth, Hoke, New Hanover, Watauga and Yadkin counties. House Bill 74 would appropriate $2.5 million from the state’s general fund for each year of the 2021-23 biennium, with each county receiving up to $500,000 each year. Warren told the Post he plans to have Greg Alcorn, Global Contact Services CEO and founder of the program in Rowan County, give a presentation to lawmakers when the bill comes up in a committee meeting. Alcorn is also a former member of the State Board of Education.

“I think it’s more relevant now because of COVID and the remote teaching,” Warren said. “We’re seeing such a gap developing in student development.”

Warren and Howard are currently sponsoring H.B. 122, a bipartisan bill that would increase mileage and per diem rates for state employees — including teachers and members of boards and commissions — to current federal rates and set the 2023 legislator mileage and per diem rate at 2019 federal rates. Warren said many of these employees and board members travel for conferences with little to no compensation. Younger legislators are unable to manage travels as legislators due to these rates, he said.

Despite many lawmakers in agreement that it’s needed, Warren said it’s unlikely the bill will be brought up for discussion due to the potential for politicization and the unwillingness for legislators to appear as if they’re increasing their compensation amidst the pandemic. He added that he’s considering reworking the bill to ask for a governor-appointed commission to study the issue and return with a report.

Warren said a few bills are still in the drafting phase, including a revisit of the N.C. Managing Environmental Waste Act, addressing sweepstakes parlors and establishing lead levels. With 2020 Census data not available until September, he anticipates lawmakers will recess in July and return in September or October to address redistricting.

Rep. Julia Howard, R-77

Howard and Warren are sponsoring H.B. 107, which holds the unemployment tax rate for employers at 1.9% for 2021 rather than raising it. Additionally, the bill extends provisions that expedite the filing of unemployment claims as the pandemic continues.

Howard has reintroduced a bill that would prohibit debt settlement and declare it an unfair trading practice and expand civil remedies available to debtors. A similar bill passed the House and Senate during the short session in June but was ultimately rejected for a vote on the Senate floor.

Debt adjusting is taking money and promising to pay it to someone else’s creditor. Debt settlement is going between the debtor and creditor to negotiate on behalf of the debtor. Both are misdemeanors under current law. Howard’s proposed bill aims to give the attorney general “more teeth” to stop such activity, and it helps the debtor who might want to sue.

Howard is also sponsoring H.B. 86, which increases the death benefits granted to state lawmakers who die while in service. Though the current maximum death benefit for state employees who die while in service is $50,000, state legislators are subject to benefits up to $15,000 because of their salary rates.

Howard said this bill would show a lawmaker’s life is not “less valuable than someone else’s” and is an attempt at being fair to them.

Howard is also sponsoring a bill that would promote the use of muscadine grape juice in the state’s learning institutions and include muscadine grape juice producers and other fruit product producers participating in the “Got To Be NC” marketing program as participants in the farm-to-school purchasing program.

She told the Post the House Finance Committee, which she chairs, will look at how to best spend a $4 billion surplus in state funds that resulted from the failure to finalize a budget in the previous two years. Howard said it’s more revenue than the state anticipated, but lawmakers must be careful how it’s allocated.

Rep. Wayne Sasser, R-67

The legislature’s lone pharmacist is the primary sponsor of a handful of health-related bills.

H.B. 93 would require physicians who prescribe opioid medications to patients to also prescribe an opioid antagonist medication to prevent overdoses. Sasser said the bill isn’t aimed at those who frequently abuse substances. Rather, it’s intended for those with severe pain who are susceptible to taking more than their required dose due to forgetfulness.

“If they don’t have Nalaxone there, they’re going to die,” he said. “And if it’s preventable, why wouldn’t we save lives?”

Sasser is the primary sponsor of H.B. 95, which would allow organ donors to remain donors on a permanent basis.

H.B. 178, Sasser explained, would streamline the process from the moment a doctor prescribes a medication to when the patient arrives at a pharmacy to receive their prescription. This bill would allow the doctor to electronically see within seconds whether the patient’s insurance company will pay for the prescribed medication or whether another prescription or prior authorization order is needed. This would prevent the patient from being informed when they arrive to a pharmacy their insurance company will not pay for the prescription.

Sasser said his intent with all medical-related bills are to help the patient, which is why some are bipartisan measures among lawmakers with a background in the medical field. Two legislators he frequently works with on such bills include Reps. Gale Adcock, who’s a family nurse practitioner and Democrat representing Wake County, and Kristin Baker, a physician and Republican representing Cabarrus County.

“It’s about saving lives,” Sasser said.

Both Howard and Sasser are sponsoring H.B. 69, which would integrate education about the Holocaust and genocide into the standard middle and high school curriculum. Sasser told the Post he’s particularly interested in this issue since he was a history major in college. He said genocide still happens in the world today in places such as Syria and Africa. He said it’s important for children to be exposed to the history of the Holocaust and genocide to prevent such atrocities from happening again.

“Teaching everything all across the board is valuable to hopefully make this world we live in better,” Sasser said. “We need to study them to prevent them from happening again.”

Sasser is also sponsoring House Joint Resolution 172, which highlights the need for term limits on federal lawmakers. Sasser said this measure is unlikely to “go anywhere,” but is more of a formal statement that “we need the general public doing legislation and not professional politicians who want to do this for the rest of their lives.”

Sen. Carl Ford, R-33, is the primary sponsor of three bills to date, with the latest being an act that designates the month of September each year as childhood cancer awareness month.

Contact reporter Natalie Anderson at 704-797-4246.

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