Here at the General Assembly we are preparing ourselves for what looks to be a difficult session.
Our goal here this session, as it is every session, is to do the best job we can for you, the citizens we represent. This week I will be discussing the legislative process in general. I will also go into detail about the Senate’s schedule and my committee assignments. Lastly, we will discuss one specific bill, the Victims Compensation Amendment, which I have introduced and that I feel you should be informed on.
So far this session there have been 1,961 bills filed, 868 by the House and 1,093 by the Senate. These numbers will certainly grow over the coming weeks and months, with the exception of the number of bills filed by the Senate. The General Assembly has deadlines for when bills must be submitted for filling, and the Senate deadline has passed. House members have until April 1st to file that last local bills, or bills dealing with issues specific to their districts, and until April 8th to file public bills, or bills with issues that affect the state as a whole. The Senate deadlines for local and public bills were March 11th and March 25th, respectively.
Not all of the bills that are filed will become law. Since the 2005 Session, only about 17% of all bills filed have been ratified. There have been almost 10,000 bills filed during that time, and approximately 1,700 have become law (These figures do not take into account the current session). For more specific figures, you can follow this link. Each biennium is divided into two different sessions, a long session and a short session. This year we are in our long session. As you would expect, long sessions produce far more introduced bills than do short sessions. In 2007, the last long session of the General Assembly, there were 3,645 bills introduced, and 619 of them passed. Usually, the long session produces two to three times as many bills as the short session. During the long session, the General Assembly appropriates the budget, and that is the main reason that there is such a discrepancy between the number of bills filed in a long session versus a short session.
After a bill has been introduced on the floor it is referred to a committee. Committees comprise a smaller number of Assemblymen who will decide if the bills referred to them should be sent to the floor for a vote of the full Senate or House. The easiest way for you as citizens to follow the workings of the Senate or the House is to view the daily calendar. These can be found by going to the North Carolina General Assembly’s web page. From there the specific calendars for the House and the Senate can be viewed by scrolling down to the bottom of the page. Just follow the links there for the “full” calendar for whichever chamber you wish to follow.
The calendar itself is a concise summary of the day’s activities and the upcoming activities of each chamber. The calendar for today’s Senate session can be found here. The calendar lists the time that session will meet, the order of events for that day of session, the bills that were introduced since the last session meeting and the bills that are to be considered by the chamber. The first bills that will be considered will be local bills, of which there are three on today’s schedule. Then we will consider public bills. Today we have only one public bill on the calendar. Listed below those bills are the first readings of newly introduced bills. This is where notice is given of the committee to which all the new bills have been assigned.
After the listing of bills, there is a schedule of committee meetings. I serve on 6 committees; Appropriations/Base Budget, Commerce, Education, Judiciary II, Health Care, and the Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services. I am a Co-Chair the Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services, which addresses the budget for health care and social care services provided by the State. Below is a listing of the times this week that these committees will meet, along with the legislation and links to that legislation, which we will be evaluating at each meeting.
Tuesday, March 31
SB 22 Ban Texting While Driving.
SB 96 No “Texting” While Driving
SB 617 Stalking Law Conforming Changes
HB 8 Prohibit Cell Phones in Prison
SB 135 Operation of Mopeds
SB 375 Insurance/Cover Hearing Aids
SB 405 Real Property Sales Information
SB 423 Waive CDL Test Requirement for Military Personel
SB 448 Self-Service Storage Facilities
Wednesday, April 1
SB 208 People First.
SB 674 Amend Rabies Laws
SB 675 Amend Public Health-Related Laws
SB 228 DHHS/Office of Men’s Health
Thursday, April 2
SB 44 Appeals of Quasi-Judicial Land-Use Decisions
SB 74 Increase Penalty/2nd Degree Murder
SB 277 Strengthen Child Labor Violation Penalties
SB 403 Victims Compensation Amendment
HB 22 Enhance Youth Employment Protections
Senate Bill 403, Victims Compensation Amendment, one of the bills that I have introduced is up for committee review this week. It is a bill that I have introduced to amend the Victims Compensation Act so that the family of people who are killed by another motorist will be eligible for compensation for grief counseling. The Victims Compensation Act, in general, helps people account for lost income as a result of being the victim of a crime. This compensation is intended to cover the gaps that are not covered by other means, such as insurance or Medicare. The Victims Compensation Act itself can be found here.
This issue came to my attention because of the efforts of Marbeth Holmes. Her parents were tragically taken from her last summer as the result of a head-on-collision on Hwy 401. The driver of the other vehicle was not under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time of the accident, so he was charged with a misdemeanor death by motor vehicle. This amendment, if passed, would help families receive grief counseling in aftermath of a horrific loss. Between 2003 and 2007 there were over 3,000 people killed as a result of automobile crashes that did not involve alcohol. The families of these people are victims and they need our support. As Ms. Holmes said, this legislation “gives me hope that my parents’ death can bring about positive change and, even in death, they can enhance public safety.” There is one impediment to this bill being passed. Currently there is a back log of cases in which Victim’s Compensation payments are to be evaluated. Additional appropriations are needed for Victim’s Compensation Fund, and they may be difficult to come by in light of the current budget shortfall and this back log of cases.
As always I welcome your comments on this newsletter or anything else that concerns you. My office is here to help in whatever manner we can. It is an honor to serve as your Senator, and I know that my first duty here at the General Assembly is to serve your best interests.