Bill to Provide Driving Permits to Illegal Immigrants Divides State House

A bill that would allow limited driving privileges for undocumented immigrants in North Carolina recently passed the state House committee 22-to-11.

But it still faces a split Republican membership, and opposition from the governor.

“It’s a very controversial bill,” said District 50 Rep. Graig Meyer, a Democrat. “It may be one of the most controversial bills that comes up this session that hasn’t gotten a veto from the governor. There are many members who are anti-immigrant in their overall sentiments. And they are passionately against this bill.”

That’s District 50 Rep. Graig Meyer, a Democrat. He supports House Bill 328, which provides a restricted drivers permit for applicants “not lawfully present in the United States.”

“They would have a way to get a driving permit, so that we would at least know who is driving on our roads; that they have a license and have passed and understand all of our driving laws; and that they’re eligible to get insurance,” said Meyer. “It puts all of us at risk to have people on the roads who don’t know the rules and aren’t insured.”

The process would include fingerprinting, background checks and passing a state driving test.

Meyer addressed the presumed difficulty in getting undocumented people to reveal themselves to local governments that way.

“Those people who do register for a driving permit will have to, obviously, give their information over to be held by the state of North Carolina, just as all licensed drivers have their information in the license database,” said Meyer. “But, the information they give cannot and will not be given to law enforcement for the purpose of deportation or other immigration hearings, unless that person has been convicted of a crime.”

Meyer added that there’s one more significant incentive to consider.

“The people who are here, who are undocumented – don’t have access to drivers licenses – know that every day that they get out on the road without a license, they are risking deportation for getting a ticket,” said Meyer.

The Highway Safety and Citizens protection Act of 2015, as it’s called, also increases penalties for the manufacture of fake IDs, in an effort to reduce identity theft.

NC House Could Vote on SB2 Veto Wednesday

After Governor Pat McCrory vetoed legislation last week that would make it legal for magistrates and registers of deeds to opt out of performing marriages based on religious beliefs against same-sex marriage, the state Senate overrode the veto. Now it is up to the House.

Representative Graig Meyer spoke with WCHL’s Blake Hodge about the scheduled vote.

Medical Marijuana Advocates Blast NC House Committee

A North Carolina House committee has angered supporters of medical marijuana by killing a bill that would legalize it.

And the anger toward legislators on this issue is bipartisan.

On Wednesday, House Judiciary I chose unanimously, by a voice vote – Republicans and Democrats – to provide an “unfavorable report” on House Bill 78, which would have legalized cannabis use for some medical patients.

That prevented the bill from going to the floor for a vote, and effectively squashed it for two years. Another House committee did the same thing to another medical marijuana bill, two years ago.

The vote came after legislators heard from patients and families living with cancer, epilepsy and other illnesses that are made more bearable by cannabis use, according to their testimony.

Jamie Hargitt is a Republican living in Fayetteville. She attended the committee hearing with her husband David, a veteran with Parkinson’s disease.

She is livid at the House committee.

“They don’t even answer questions,” she said. “They played God.”

Ignacio Almazon, the coordinator for Triangle chapter of NORML, is also not pleased.

“I’m very disappointed that our Judiciary Committee is willing to continue to incarcerate non-violent people,” said Almazon. “They’re willing to continue the cycle of opiate overdoses, where states that have programs have shown a reduction of at least 25 percent.”

Almazon said that research shows that 70 percent of North Carolinians favor a legal medical marijuana program in the state.

And there are reasons that veterans are stepping up to support the cause.

“Our veterans coming back from Afghanistan – the pharmaceuticals are causing them to commit suicide,” said Almazon. “yet a plan helps them out exponentially, and doesn’t give them the side effects that the chemicals that are made in a lab do.”

Veterans’ families speak out

Jamie Hargitt is married to 44-year-old retired Major David Hargitt, the founder and president of the North Carolina Chapter of Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition – or, NCRAMP.

David retired from the Army in 2013 after 25 years of service.

The couple is certain that David’s Parkinson’s Disease was brought on by chemical exposure during the Gulf War, based on a second opinion they got at the Mayo Clinic.

Due to his symptoms, which include his muscles locking up, rendering him helpless and unable to speak, he can no longer work an eight-hour day.

Fed up with too many canceled appointments, Jamie said they no longer go to the VA for help.

Her husband took a prescribed medication to relieve symptoms until he developed an allergic reaction. Next, he underwent deep brain stimulation surgery.

“It’s like a pacemaker,” said Jamie Hargitt, “except for, it’s a generator. It’s a bigger piece of equipment that goes approximately where a pacemaker would go.”

It’s been helpful in relieving some symptoms, said Jamie. But there are times when his symptoms have prevented David from sleeping for days on end.

They found a support group of other soldiers’ families – and eventually, David tried marijuana, on the advice of a friend. It worked.

“For him, medical cannabis does fantastic,” said Hargitt, “because he’s able to sleep with it. So he’s cut out all of the sleeping pills that he had with it. And it stays with him for a day or two.”

The Hargitts brought RAMP to North Carolina as a result of their search for a conservative pro-medical-marijuana group that could work with the General Assembly.

“We’re Republicans,” said Jamie Hargitt, “and we wanted a professional appearance, and a professional group.”

The stigma involved

Jamie said that she and her husband don’t like breaking the law. Some soldiers, she said, are afraid to try marijuana as medicine for just that reason.

Her friend and fellow Republican Kristine Bacon is married to 46-year-old retired U.S. Army Master Sgt. Richard Bacon. He served for 26 years.

Twenty of them were spent in Special Forces. Being near several blasts over that period took a toll. But close proximity to one vehicle IED blast in Afghanistan in August 2009 did a lot of damage.

“After that,” said Kristine, “he came home, and he was just having these tremendous headaches.”

Post-traumatic concussion syndrome has made it difficult for Richard to focus. Kristine said he compares his brain to a speeding race car without a track.

She said that cannabis has provided that track for him.

Kristine Bacon said she believes there’s still hope on the horizon. Soon, House Judiciary I will have an opportunity take up another pro-medical marijuana measure, HB 317.

Rep. Meyer on Stam’s Remarks About Homosexuality: ‘Offensive’

A Democratic Representative of Durham and Orange Counties is slamming a Republican colleague for remarks he made about homosexuality, during a North Carolina House session on Tuesday:

“Many, many sexual orientations are not ones you want to have teaching kids in school. Now, you may think you know what you mean by this, but you don’t. I encourage you to vote against this amendment.”

That’s Republican Rep. Paul “Skip” Stam, speaking on the floor of the North Carolina House Tuesday about an amendment to pending charter school legislation that deals with hiring practices.

The author of the amendment, Democratic Rep. Susan Fisher of Buncombe County, wanted “sexual orientation” and “gender” added to a list of things that could not be used to disqualify job candidates.

During his remarks, Stam directed the sergeant-at-arms to circulate a paper titled “What is Sexual Orientation?”

The list of 30 definitions provided by Stam was taken from the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” published 14 years ago by the American Psychiatric Association.

Definitions include pedophilia, sado-masochism and various fetishes. The APA has since stated that pedophilia was mistakenly listed as a “sexual orientation.”

Right away, Stam was roundly criticized on the House floor, on Twitter, and in the pressfor his comments and actions.

In an interview with WCHL on Wednesday, Democratic Rep. Graig Meyer added his voice to that chorus.

Rep. Graig Meyer (D, Orange-Durham)

Rep. Graig Meyer (D, Orange-Durham)

“His comments were quite offensive,” said Meyer, “and I don’t believe that anyone in common usage thinks about pedophilia as a sexual orientation.”

Meyer told WCHL he had a few words with Stam after he made his comments.

“I went over to Rep. Stam immediately afterwards and told him that he was using the wrong citation, and that the DSM did not actually describe those things as sexual orientations,” said Meyer.

According to Meyer, he later emailed all of his house colleagues to correct Stam’s use of the citation.

In an email response to questions from WCHL, Fisher said she offered the amendment “to more fully delineate the groups who should be included in the non-discriminatory portion of the bill. We know that if the populations are specifically named in the law that they are less likely to be discriminated against than if it is just a vague statement. It would have covered students and employees/teachers.”

Regarding Stam’s remarks, Fisher said: “It was disappointing to me to see that there are still those who would use outdated and inaccurate information to inform their debate.”

Republican leadership in the House used parliamentary procedure to table Fisher’s amendment, and Meyer called that “more offensive than Rep. Stam’s comments.”

“I’m supportive of the amendment,” said Meyer. “I believe that it’s important to include sexual orientation and gender identity in non-discrimination clauses that are sponsored by governmental organizations. And I think that would be a good thing to have in our charter school legislation.”

WCHL reached out to Rod Chaney, the Republican challenger for Meyer’s seat in the November election, for reaction to Stam’s comments and Fisher’s amendment.

He replied by email that he is currently on vacation with his family in Alaska, and did not respond further.

Education Chairs Praise Elements of Proposed House Budget

Chairpersons for both the Orange County and the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Boards of Education had some words of praise for the North Carolina House of Representatives budget released Tuesday.

“The House budget is silent on the tenure piece of things,” said Orange County Board of Education Chair Donna Coffey. “And so I think that’s probably a great thing.”

Regarding education, the $21 billion budget would offer teachers five percent raises on average, without requiring them to give up tenure.

The proposed Senate budget offers teachers an 11 percent raise, but only if they agree to give up tenure.

According to the House plan, the raises would be funded by expected higher revenues from the North Carolina Education Lottery.

“I think it’s ambitious on the part of the state,” says Coffey. “However, if it means that we’re going to receive more lottery money, then I think that’s a great thing, because in the past, the state has wanted to either use our lottery money for something other than education, or not fully fund the lottery.”

However, Coffey did not embrace the lottery component without reservation.

“However, it’s a short-sighted plan, because I’m not sure that those would be recurring revenues that would fall over into the future years,” says Coffey.

Chapel Hill-Carrboro Board of Education Chair Jamezetta Bedford was even more dismissive of that idea.

“They think lottery revenues are going to fund this?” says Bedford. “What a joke.”

Still, Bedford says that she, too, is encouraged by some of the things she’s hearing.

“The House proposal for teacher raises is much more reasonable,” says Bedford. “It would help us with recruiting and retention. And the idea that they don’t have to give up their tenure is also very promising.”

Bedford says she’s especially glad that there’s no mention of cutting teachers assistants in the House budget, whereas the Senate budget would cut up to 7,400 teacher assistants statewide.

“We need jobs, and we need them in the classroom,” she says. “They make a big difference in supporting students and activities, so that certified teachers can really teach.”

Coffey had this to say about the Senate budget.

“I think the Senate plan, on many levels, including education, was not a good one.”

WRAL reports that Speaker Thom Tillis expects the House and Senate to work out differences between their two budget plans by the end of next week.

NC House Defeats 75 mph Speed Limit Study

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) – A slowed-down effort to consider raising the maximum speed limit on some North Carolina highways to 75 mph has reached a stop sign at the legislature.

The House voted down a measure Thursday that would have directed the Department of Transportation to study raising the 70 mph speed limit on some interstates and other roads. DOT would then report to a legislative panel and propose a pilot for up to four roads. The full General Assembly would still have had to approve the pilot.

The bill failed 44-64 after several legislators were worried about safety and didn’t see a good reason to consider raising the limit.

The House last week derailed an earlier version of the Senate bill to give DOT the power for 75 mph roads without a study.

NC Governor Says Tax Talks Are Tough Process

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) – Gov. Pat McCrory says he and North Carolina legislative leaders are going through a tough process working on a tax overhaul and isn’t going to spend a long time helping facilitate a deal.

The governor said after a bill signing ceremony Wednesday he’s feeling there will be a positive outcome to negotiations between House and Senate Republicans. The two chambers have passed competing tax plans.

McCrory says he hopes to see consensus reached in the next week but doesn’t want the process to drag out and says he’ll move on to other important policy issues otherwise. The legislature doesn’t have a hard deadline but Republicans want to end the legislative session in July.

The governor says he’s looked at many tax scenarios but hasn’t made his own offer to legislators.

Legislature OKs NC Stop-Gap State Spending Plan

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) – The General Assembly has made quick work of approving contingency plans for North Carolina government given there’s no state budget with less than a week before the fiscal year ends.

The Senate and House approved Tuesday a stop-gap spending measure that would keep funding government operations through July as budget talks continue. The measure now goes to Gov. Pat McCrory‘s desk for his signature.

The proposal is needed because legislative leaders haven’t yet negotiated a final budget for the next two years. They’re trying to first reach a deal on a tax overhaul.

Tuesday’s measure directs state agencies on how much they can spend in the meantime. It also tells the state budget office to find $45 million in savings to pay for an even larger Medicaid shortfall this year.

NC House Panel OKs Possible 75 mph Speed Limits

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) – Some North Carolina House members have decided to move Senate legislation ahead that would allow speed limits on some state highways to race up to 75 mph.

A House committee voted Tuesday for the bill allowing the Department of Transportation to set speed limits higher than the current 70 mph cap for some interstates and other highways if traffic and engineering allows it. The bill doesn’t identify which roads could change, but committee members discussed rural stretches of Interstate 40 in eastern North Carolina as a possibility.

The bill already has passed the Senate and its next stop is the House floor.

The measure passed the committee despite some members saying they are worried higher speed limits will mean more highway accidents.

NC House Bill Keeps Free Lanes When Tolls Arrive

RALEIGH – The North Carolina House has passed a bill paving the way for tolls, but only if the state maintains free lanes.

The House approved a bill Tuesday that allows the state to add tolls only if it keeps the same number of non-toll lanes.

If highways were expanded, the state Department of Transportation could toll lanes to pay for the construction. The department could also offer limited access and higher speed limits to encourage motorists to take the toll lanes.

The measure targets potential tolling on Interstate 95 but would apply to all current interstates.

An amendment to restore a provision giving the legislature final say on tolls failed. Amendment sponsor Rep. Michael Speciale of New Bern argued the elected officials should have that authority, not the transportation department.