The North Carolina General Assembly came back from Thanksgiving weekend for what Republican leaders say may be the last chance to pass substantive legislation for the next six months.
The state House and Senate scheduled Sunday evening floor sessions to begin up to three days of work.
Several items of interest are a bill that would cap the gasoline tax, discussion over allowing Cherokee casinos to use live dealer games, a bill that would repeal the 2009 Racial Justice Act and the Energy Jobs Act which involves fracking.
“We still aren’t sure what the majority will bring up,” said Rep. Ken Goodman on Monday as he waited for the Republicans to set the agenda.
As for the Racial Justice Act, which allowed prisoners with a death sentence who could prove racial bias in their case to get life without parole instead of the death sentence, Goodman said doesn’t know how it will go.
The Associated Press has reported that district attorneys across the state have been lobbying this month to roll back the law, saying it’s become a backdoor way to halt capital punishment in the state and is being misused by prisoners — both white and black — to file a whole new round of appeals.
“I think personally it would be better to leave it alone,” said Goodman, D-Rockingham. “It passed last year and hasn’t had time to work out the complications that need to be played out. Right now there are two cases going forward. Why don’t we slow it down a bit and see where it goes?”
Sen. William Purcell felt similarly about the Racial Justice Act.
“I don’t think anybody wants someone sent to death because of their race,” said Purcell, D-Laurinburg. “I would like to see (the act) get a little more time in the court system. I voted on the bill when it passed.”
Goodman said the Energy Jobs Act deals with hydraulic fracturing — or “fracking” — a method for extracting oil and natural gas and has “very serious environmental concerns.” He said lawmakers may attempt a veto override.
Purcell said he has been working directly with the Energy Jobs Act. He hopes for the creation of jobs in an environmentally safe way.
While gambling is already allowed in Cherokee casinos, Goodman said allowing live dealer games “would create jobs,” to the tune of 400 positions.
“I think I’ll vote for it,” said Goodman. “The governor is already in agreement with (the) Cherokee, so it’s probably going to pass.”
“I’m anxious to hear the discussions,” said Purcell. “I’m waiting on the discussions before I sign on that. Obviously it would create jobs but I haven’t seen the bill.”
Goodman explained that money for the state’s infrastructure comes from the taxes placed on gasoline sales.
“The Department of Transportation says there is underfunding,” said Goodman. “But I’m opposed to raising the gas tax. I am in favor of a cap.”
Purcell is not in favor of a cap on the gasoline taxes.
“I don’t think we should do that,” said Purcell. “The Department of Transportation has so many projects going on right now. If we stop the funding we’ll lose those jobs. I don’t think the tax contributes to the high cost of gasoline.”
Goodman says he is unhappy about being called in from Thanksgiving holidays to meet about these issues.
“We are supposed to be part-time legislators,” said Goodman. “This is the third or fourth time we’ve been called back. We should have finished all our work back when we started.”
Purcell wasn’t happy about ending his vacation either.
“I think we should have finished the work before we went home,” the senator said. “We left there in June and have been back for three meetings, now we are having another meeting. We ought to stay here and finish the work. It’s hard on those who work. They have to keep taking days off to come to assembly and I don’t support that.”
— Staff Writer Dawn M. Kurry can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 43, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.