A controversial Senate bill that would have sharply increased the workload of UNC professors was reworked before being unexpectedly shipped off to a study commission on Tuesday.

Senate Bill 593 originally would have required all UNC professors to teach no fewer than four courses a semester. Teaching less than eight courses a year would see that professor’s salary reduced.

On Tuesday, Senator Tom McInnis presented a substitute proposal to his bill leaving STEM professors at UNC-Chapel Hill and NC State University (the state’s leading research universities) at their current workloads. Other schools in the UNC system would see their teaching loads go from five courses a year to six.

The Richmond County freshman senator said his proposal could save North Carolina between $60 and $80 million.

McInnis also told members of the Senate Education Committee that students should be treated as “the most important customer” in the UNC system and not saddled with courses taught by “student teachers.”

Senator Jerry Tillman, the committee chair, announced SB 593 would be turned over to a Legislative Research Commission for further study. And with the crossover deadline set for Thursday, McInnis’ bill will likely not re-emerge this session.

To hear Sen. McInnis speak about the need to increase the quality of instruction at North Carolina’s universities, click below:

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It’s crossover week at the legislature – that time during the session that bills that don’t have an impact on spending must pass through one chamber or the other  to remain alive for consideration this year. That means you can expect long hours and a flurry of activity this week on Jones Street.

Here are just a few of the stories we’ll be watching:

Eenvironvironmental Policy Reform – The NC House is slated to vote tonight on House Bill 795 – State Environmental Policy Act Reform. This bill would severely undermine the state Environmental Policy Act (referred to as SEPA). As the Environmental Defense Fund notes under HB 795, “review would only be required for projects that cost at least $20 million in taxpayers’ dollars or that result in permanent changes to more than 20 acres of state-owned land. This would significantly limit the number of projects that require environmental review under state law, even if tens of millions in state tax dollars are being spent.”

(The House meets at 5:30pm this afternoon if you want to contact your representative about the bill.)

Got Milk? Powdered Alcohol? How about your flu shot? –  — More than a dozen bills are on the agenda for the House Health rawCommittee this afternoon. Among the more interesting:
* Got Natural Milk. (H309) – allowing the dispensing of raw milk and raw milk products
* Prohibit Powdered Alcohol. (H290) – making it unlawful for any person to manufacture, sell, transport, import, deliver, furnish, purchase, consume, or possess powdered alcohol
* Pilot Project/Used Needle Disposal. (H712) – directs the SBI to establish a used needle and hypodermic syringe disposal pilot program to reduce the spread of HIV, AIDS, and other bloodborne diseases
*  Require Hospitals to Offer Influenza Vaccine.(H925) – requires each hospital prior to discharging a patient 65 years of age or older a flu shot

tanMembers of the Senate Health Care Committee will consider legislation on Monday to prohibit children under the age of 18 from using tanning bed equipment. The Jim Fulghum Teen Skin Cancer Prevention Act (Senate Bill 125) is intended to honor the former Wake County state representative and neurosurgeon.

A similar bill passed the House in 2013 only to die in the state Senate.

Religious Freedom returns – House Speaker Tim Moore says the Religious Freedom bills are dead for the session but that’s not stopping church groups, Bible study groups, and other conservative organizations from converging on Raleigh Tuesday for the Religious Freedom Day of Action.

Members will start their day at 9:00 a.m. at the Office of Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, 310 N. Blount Street, Raleigh.

Gay marriage 2It’s worth noting as they’re voicing support for RFRA legislation, the nation’s highest court will hear oral arguments Tuesday over same-sex marriage. Specifically, the justices will be considering the constitutionality of state bans on same-sex marriage and state refusals to recognize existing same-sex marriage. A decision in this long-awaited challenge is not expected until June.

Curtailing Teachers’ Political Activities – Also on Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary I Committee will further discuss Senate Bill 480. This bill that passed the Senate Education Committee last week prohibits teachers from campaigning for a candidate during the school day and from using a school’s computers or telephones for campaigning.

Legislative staff may have more details on some of the questions they couldn’t fully answer last week.

Interested in going? The committee meets at 10:00 a.m. in Room 1027/1128 of the Legislative Building.

Big, bad bobcats – On the lighter side, legislators will discuss this bigcatafternoon whether the bobcat should officially be named the state cat. Bobcats, which can weigh up to 40 pounds, can be found throughout North Carolina, especially in the wooded habitats of the coastal plain and the mountains.

The House Wildlife Resources Committee will vote on House Bill 161 today at 5:00 p.m.

And perhaps fittingly, members will also discuss legislation (House Bill 460) requiring individuals to report incidents involving injuries inflicted on humans by domestic or wild animals.  (Note to self: Don’t try to pet the official state cat.)

Commentary, News

1. A stark reminder that the far-right still rules in Raleigh
Just when you think there’s a glimmer of hope that the flood of reactionary ideas in the General Assembly is finally slowing down and the abuse of the democratic process is waning comes a stark reminder otherwise, that folks running things in Raleigh are still far outside the mainstream of North Carolina and are willing to use almost any heavy-handed tactic to advance their far-right agenda.[Continue Reading…]
(Video: Click here to watch Rep. Cotham’s full remarks on HB465.)

2. McCrory’s folly? 
Grim anniversary reminds us that Governor’s proposal for offshore drilling is fraught with danger
In case you missed it (or maybe just tried to forget it), this week marks the fifth anniversary of an especially dark event in modern American history. Five years ago yesterday, the Deepwater Horizon oil drilling rig exploded and caught fire in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 people and injuring 17. Two days later, on April 22 (Earth Day), the rig capsized and sank. Soon thereafter, a torrent of oil started streaming in the Gulf – a phenomenon that did not stop for 87 days. It was the worst oil “spill” in American history. [Continue Reading…]

3. U.S. Supreme Court maps out the road ahead for the North Carolina redistricting case
Monday’s U.S. Supreme Court order sending the North Carolina redistricting case back for further review, though encouraging for the plan’s challengers and for voting rights advocates as well, came as little surprise to most legal experts.

After all, the court had done the same thing just a few weeks earlier in a redistricting case out of Alabama, finding in Alabama Legislative Black Caucus v. Alabama that the trial court had applied an incorrect analysis when upholding that state’s most recent redistricting plan.[Continue Reading…]

4. Censorship controversy, thin record spark concerns over McCrory’s State Board of Ed nominee
Governor Pat McCrory’s recent nomination  of J. Todd Chasteen to serve on the State Board of Education has raised the eyebrows of some western North Carolinians.

A Boone resident who appears to have a thin record of experience with public education, Chasteen was deeply involved last year in efforts to ban a book from a public high school English classroom in Watauga County. [Continue Reading…]

5. N.C.’s outgoing higher education leaders on how to keep both faculty and students on campus
UNC President Tom Ross and N.C. Community College President Scott Ralls were joined Wednesday by two state senators for a discussion on the future of higher education in North Carolina.

Ross learned he would be out of a job in January, in a surprise move by the UNC Board of Governors to find a new president that many suspect had political motivations.Ralls announced last week he was leaving his job of 7 years leading North Carolina’s 58-campus community college system for a job leading a Virginia community college. [Continue Reading…]