Hot Button Issues at Stake As NC Lawmakers Reconvene

RALEIGH, N.C. -- The North Carolina General Assembly will reconvene Wednesday for its short session, in which lawmakers will discuss the state budget and potentially take on a number of "hot button" issues.

Both the House of Representatives and Senate will reconvene in their chambers at noon, after a 9:30 joint study committee on the Affordable Care Act and "implementation issues" and a 10:30 a.m. news conference from republican representative Ruth Samuelson.

Senate pro tempore Phil Berger said in his session preview address Friday that education and coal ash will be among top priorities for the legislature to look at this year.

Governor Pat McCrory's education plan--released last Wednesday--aims to raise salaries for teachers by an average of two percent. Berger said the legislature will review the governor's plan and at the very least will start budgeting for what lawmakers promised teachers prior to the governor's announcement--to raise base pay for new teachers.

Also on the schedule this session could be discussion of requiring photo ID for jobless benefits. McCrory has said he plans to ask lawmakers to pass a law that would require unemployed North Carolinians to show a photo ID in order to receive jobless benefits. This proposed protocol is one the Division of Employment Security has been asking for, as a means to stop fraud. McCrory has said this would be a law to sustain that requirement.

Berger said coal ash will be a topic of major discussion, as lawmakers could vote whether to move forward with a bill to ensure Duke Energy cleans up the Dan River spill. Supporters of the bill also aim to prevent similar spills from occurring at the other 13 coal ash ponds in North Carolina.

A proposal on electronic cigarettes also could be at the forefront of discussions this session. Tuesday, a panel studying taxes recommended the proposal be introduced in the short session. Support for taxing electronic cigarette is coming largely from tobacco manufacturer Reynolds American in Winston-Salem. The company VP has said Reynolds wants the tax to ensure it would be implemented fairly, if passed. He said the federal government already has classified electronic cigarettes as a tobacco product, so a tax is inevitable.

The proposed tax is lower than the electronic cigarette taxes under consideration in other states. It also would be much lower than the tax on a regular pack of cigarettes. A pack of those has a 45 cent excise tax.

Electronic cigarettes do not contain tobacco or emit smoke, but they do contain nicotine. The debate continues as to whether the devices are actually safer and healthier than conventional cigarettes.

The short session is not expected to last beyond July 4. Moral Monday demonstrators have said they again will turn out at the Capitol.


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