2003 Legislative Session Report

December 4th, 2003 by

Hundreds of issues are considered and thousands of votes cast during each session of the Assembly. You have read about some of these issues in the press. Here are a few others which may not have received as much attention or upon which a different perspective may be helpful.

  1. I did not vote for the Budget. With revenues running 7% ahead of the previous year I felt it was unnecessary to once again raise the sales and income tax rate. I also discovered that there are hundreds of millions of dollars in pork still in the state budget. Under these circumstances I could not vote for a tax increase. Spending levels will increase by about $1.5 billion over the next biennium and taxes by about $920 million (over revenue levels under preexisting law).B There are many good provisions in the budget.B But these could have been retained without the massive tax and spending increases. (HB397) 41 other House Republicans and 22 Senate Republicans also voted against the budget.
  2. Revise Exclusionary Rule (HB 564) passed the Judiciary Committee on a vote of 7-6. This is an effort to separate murderers and rapists from their loopholes. I explored all options to see if it could become law this year. It gained the support of the Conference of District Attorneys and victims advocacy groups. An attempt on the Floor to amend another bill with this change in law was ruled out of order three times.B This struggle is not over.
  3. As Co-Chair of the House Committee on Election Law and Campaign Finance Reform I am a primary co-sponsor of dozens of election law changes, Help American Vote Act (HB 842). One controversial change is the new requirement that voters sign the pollbook.
  4. With Rep. Linda Johnson I am a primary co-sponsor of this year’s “Woman’s Right to Know Act” (HB 998), requiring some minimal but truthful information about abortion. Although the bill has a majority of the House as co-sponsors (and many more pledged to vote for it) it never received a hearing. A CNN/Gallup Poll indicates that this bill is favored by 75-85% of the voters. In the May 2004 Short Session we will attempt yet again to get a vote on it. For a report on the current legal status of unborn children in North Carolina please ask by email.
  5. All of us want to see road improvements made promptly. But the Assembly funded additional improvements with a $700 million raid on the Highway Trust Fund. The raid violates the language on the 1996 bond ballot voted by the people. The money for light rail ($70 million) is just the opening shot of a colossal billion dollar waste of money that could otherwise be spent on real road improvements. I cast a protest vote against HB48.
  6. Two technical bills that I introduced became law – HB 393 Modify County Tax Certification Authority; HB 394 Clarify Legal Filing Deadlines. Ask your lawyer.
  7. Rep. Don Munford and I filed a bill to repeal the gift tax in 2006 (HB 1277). This tax collects very little money but can seriously undermine proper estate planning. We will pursue it in May.
  8. Two local bills are now law – HB 517 – Holly Springs Town Charter Revision and SB 181 – Apex Quick Take/Historical Register. I worked on these bills with Sen. Richard Stevens. It was a privilege to work with the governing bodies and staff of these two towns.
  9. Dix Hospital – Senators and Representatives for Wake County worked together to try to save a psychiatric hospital for Wake County. But we failed. Our task now is to make sure that there are adequate psychiatric facilities available. I have been appointed to the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities, and Substance Abuse Services.
  10. HB 150 – Establish State Tuition Grants would allow 250 North Carolina residents who are full-time students at accredited 4-year private colleges (like Southeastern College at Wake Forest) to receive the same tuition assistance from the State ($1,800/year) as others (like Duke and Meredith). I was the primary co-sponsor with Bill Owens, a Democrat from Pasquotank. After a bruising 3-day battle it passed 66-47. The Senate vote was easier, 38-2.
  11. HB 11 repeals six unconstitutional statutes and was amended into another bill (SCS for HB 281), which will likely become law in the fall redistricting session.B I was able to get eight other technical amendments into the Senate version of the bill on the subject of adoption but not the House version. I am working with DHHS and others to get these provisions into the final conference report in the Fall.
  12. With Rep. Mary MacLawhorn, I co-managed the Disaster Price Gouging Bill (SB 963).B It passed the House 116-1.B The Senate concurred with the House changes. It makes excessive pricing during a disaster an unfair trade practice but does not arbitrarily set any price.
  13. Display American Flag (SB 722).B We drafted a Committee Substitute, which received a favorable report from Judiciary II Committee, providing for additional freedom to display the American flag on private property. This will have to wait for the May 2004 short session.
  14. We spent quite a bit of time on a Manufactured Housing Bill (HB 1006). The effect will be to dramatically lower interest rates by treating these properties as real estate for loan purposes instead of personal property. The bill also provides some additional consumer protection.
  15. I spent much time arguing (mostly unsuccessfully) with my colleagues against targeted tax (and expenditure) incentives. These include the Bill Lee Act, Job Creation Tax Credit, Golden Leaf Foundation, Tax Increment Financing (SB765), and the Travel and Tourism Investment Act (HB1316) (Not passed) The economic case against these incentives is summarized in an article on my website, HYPERLINK “http://www.paulstam.info” www.paulstam.info. They cost the state several hundreds of millions of dollars each year. Economists believe that these incentives harm the economy.
  16. Moratorium on the Death Penalty. We have counted the votes in opposition to this proposal and have provided written and electronic information to members to send to their constituents. If you would like a sample of the information that I have provided, please ask for it by email.
  17. SB996 ABC-Sexually Explicit Performances passed on the last weekend of the session. It restores the ability of the ABC Commission to regulate live sexual performances where alcohol is served. Although the Bill passed unanimously, it was a struggle to pry it out of Committee.
  18. SB6 Ban Video Poker (except at Cherokee) passed the Senate but has seen no action in the House. This addictive scam is opposed by all 100 sheriffs. I am working with the Senate sponsor and the large House majority that wants a vote in May 2004.
  19. I’m all for free markets, but interest rates of 400-450% APR are a little higher than the poor can afford. When an amendment failed which would have limited interest rates to 150% APR several conservative Republicans decided to expend time and political capital to defeat the Payday Lending Bill. It passed the House but failed to pass the Senate when the news broke that the FDIC and the Comptroller of the Currency are cracking down on these lenders who affiliate with national banks.
  20. As a member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services it was my duty to consider the budget for the second largest department in State government. I am sure you read of drastic cutbacks in services. Those of you familiar with government accounting realize that even with the “cuts,” spending by that department will be greater this year than last.Legislative work did not stop when the Long Session ended in July. I have been appointed to several Study Committees (including a House appointment to the Legislative Research Commission). The two most active are:
  21. The Joint Select Committee on Economic Growth and Development has been hearing from people all over the state concerning dire economic conditions in many of our towns. I have been working with Fiscal Research Division for a proposal to repeal tax incentives and to use the money saved to
    • lower the corporate income tax rate to 6% (as a first step – our rate is currently the highest in the Southeast);
    • lower the highest marginal income tax rate to 7-1/2% (since so many small businesses are organized as LLCs and partnerships which pay this rate and not the corporate rate – we are the highest rate in the Southeast);
    • provide increased funding for community college workplace training.

The academic studies which I have seen indicate that these are the items that matter (in addition to location which cannot be changed) and that incentives are at the bottom of the list of what works.

  1. I Co-Chair the Criminal Sub-Committee of the House Select Committee on Domestic Violence. Our work includes revising all of the assault laws in North Carolina to more properly base punishment on harm to the victim. We really must take more seriously the problem of people beating each other up and trying to kill each other at home.
  2. The second “extraordinary” session concluded on December 10th. I joined the defense in the House against the Governor’s Incentive Package. The total cost (over 10 years) is $214 million – mostly for RJR to “save” 800 jobs after it laid off 2,500 employees last year. If you want more information on tax incentives I can email it to you.

It has been a privilege to serve the citizens of the 37th House District in this session of the General Assembly. If you have questions on these or other bills please contact me and I will try to find answers for you.

The writer represents Southern Wake County in the North Carolina House of Representatives.