Senate Votes To Shrink Appeals Court, Backs Deregulation Bill And Cabinet Picks

Apr 11, 2017

Updated 4:25 p.m.
The state Senate on Tuesday passed a bill to reduce the number of state appeals court judges, and gave preliminary final approval to a bill that would relax state regulations on the environment and businesses. Senators also confirmed three more Cabinet picks of Gov. Roy Cooper, for commerce, environment and cultural resources. Other bills making their way through the General Assembly would enact new restrictions on opioids, and limit lawsuits against large hog farms. 

The state Senate voted unanimously to confirm three more of Governor Roy Cooper's Cabinet picks.

The Senate backed Tony Copeland as Commerce Secretary, Michael Regan as Environmental Secretary, and Susi Hamilton as head of the Department of Cultural Resources.

The Senate now has endorsed eight of Cooper's cabinet members, under a new law adopted last year. Two more nominees remain - for revenue and information technology.

DEREGULATION NEARS FINAL VOTE IN SENATE 

The Senate gave preliminary final approval to a bill that would ease state regulations on the environment, businesses and some government agencies.  It needs one more vote next week - called a "third reading" - before it goes to the governor.

Republicans say it eliminates unneeded or outdated regulations in the state statutes. Democrats think some changes could hurt the environment.

One would double the area around streams that can be disturbed during development. Charlotte Democrat John Autry said during House debate earlier this month that the change could endanger drinking water and lead to more flooding.

“North Carolina already doesn't require mitigation of seasonal streams, so we need to keep stream protections that we do have,” Autry said.  

The bill also would relax the rules for beach restoration projects, by allowing sand to be mined from coastal shoals, even if it's not compatible with sand it's replacing. The House rejected an amendment by Rep. Pricey Harrison, a Democrat from Greensboro, that would have delayed the exemption until the Coastal Resources Commission could study the change.

“I heard from coastal geologists and marine fisheries biologists who are concerned about mining this important fish habitat to both recreational fisherman and commercial fishing," Harrison said during the House debate.

The bill also would exempt landscaping materials from storm water rules. It reduces some state environmental reporting requirements, and exempts more than two dozen counties from vehicle emissions inspections. And it would exempt storage facilities and some other buildings from energy efficiency standards.

A similar bill failed last year when the House and Senate couldn’t agree. Republican Rep. Chuck McGrady is a key backer, and called it a good compromise.

"All of the matters of significant concern for me have been removed, and therefore I am supportive of the compromise," McGrady said during the House debate.

This year's version passed the Senate last month, but was expanded in the House, and came back to the Senate for a concurrence vote.

On Tuesday, Democratic Senator Angela Bryant (Rocky Mount) said the Senate did not have enough time to review changes in made by the House, including a provision that could protect companies from claims by small franchisees. Senate leaders said she could raise those objections between now and the final vote next week.  

Not in this year's bill is a provision that would have allowed electronics to be dumped in landfills, instead of being recycled.  

SENATE VOTES TO CUT 3 APPEALS COURT JUDGES

The state Senate approved a bill that will reduce the state Court of Appeals by three judges.  The vote was 30 to 13, along party lines.  Republicans who backed bill say reducing the size of the court makes sense because the court's caseload has decreased in recent years. 

The positions wouldn't be cut right away. Instead, seats would not be filled as each judge leaves office or retires at age 72. Three Republican judges are close to that mandatory retirement.  If the bill passes, that means Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper wouldn't be able to select replacements for those judges. 

The bill now goes back to the House, which previously passed the bill. They must agree to changes made in the Senate. 

HOUSE OKs BILL TO CONTROL OPIOID ABUSE

Legislation to reduce opioid abuse and overdoses passed the North Carolina House with unanimous bipartisan support this morning. It strengthens requirements for doctors and pharmacists on the use of a statewide controlled substance database.

Doctors would also generally be limited to 5 and 7 day supplies when first prescribing the potent drugs for pain or after operations. A larger refill prescription would require a subsequent consultation with the doctor. The proposal now goes to the Senate for approval.

Attorney General Josh Stein was on WFAE's Charlotte Talks Tuesday morning talking about efforts to fight the growing problem of opioid addiction in North Carolina. That interview is available anytime at wfae.org

BILL WOULD LIMIT LAWSUITS AGAINST HOG FARMS

Legislation to limit North Carolina farms' liability in lawsuits over animal waste smells has passed the state House, after a significant change that will keep it from applying to current lawsuits against the large hog producer Smithfield Foods. 

The legislation would limit penalties that a jury or judge could impose against hog farms or other agricultural operations in lawsuits accusing them of creating a nuisance for neighbors.

The farms' liability would be limited to the lost rental or property value plaintiffs can prove was the result of the nuisance. The liability could not exceed a piece of property's market value. After a lengthy debate the House narrowly voted to add language to specify the legislation would not apply to any pending cases. The bill now goes to the Senate.