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GunsIt shows you how far off course North Carolina government has strayed in recent years that so many good people are in a celebratory mood this morning after the Senate’s passage last night of legislation to further loosen state gun regulations. The source of the happiness (or at least, the relief), of course, is the fact that the bill has been transformed from the terrifying monster it was a few weeks ago into a junkyard dog. Provisions that would have scrapped the state’s handgun permitting system and limited doctors’ ability to ask patients about guns in the home, for instance, were removed.

That said, the bill remains dangerous and unnecessary. As the good people at North Carolinians Against Gun Violence explained last night:

“The bill loosens gun restrictions by allowing guns in locked cars at the state fairgrounds during the State Fair. It will also allow someone to take a gun out of a locked car on educational property to defend themselves or others against a threatening situation, a role advocates say is better left to law enforcement. Limiting local jurisdiction, the bill weakens municipalities’ ability to determine when and where guns are allowed. It also downgrades carrying a concealed weapon on private property to an infraction.”

In other words, when Gov. McCrory signs the bill into law — as he presumably will — North Carolina will have more killing machines in more places than before.

Whoopee!

So, congratulations to the advocates who helped beat back the original version of the legislation. It was one of the first successes gun safety advocates have had in North Carolina in a long time and a lot of people deserve great credit for their hard and courageous work and important success. Let’s hope, however, that this is just the first baby step for a growing movement that will not just staunch the state’s bleeding, but ultimate;y help heal the wounds brought on by several years of senseless gun deregulation.

Commentary

(This post has been updated — see below).

There’s good news and bad news from the North Carolina Senate today.

The good news is that this is the last day for Senate committees to meet during the 2015 session. Senators will undoubtedly bend this rule in the days to come, but as a general matter, the official end of committees is a good sign that a) the flood of dreadful new laws should slow down at least a little and b) lawmakers are beginning to kinda sorta think about ending this nightmare of a session.

Unfortunately, the bad news is that senators will almost certainly be ramming a bevy of bills through committee today with scarcely any review or public input.

In this troubling vein, check out the agenda for today’s Judiciary II Committee where members are scheduled to review ten — count ’em ten — bills in one meeting that will convene just two hours before the Senate floor session. And to make matters worse, included in this list are two especially problematic proposals that are all about death:

And, of course, to make matters even more worrisome, the Senate has a penchant for adding everything but the kitchen sink to such bills in last minute “committee substitutes.” Thus, for instance, while the Schaffer’s gun bill was significantly watered down prior to passage in the House, it seems entirely plaussible that senators will pull a new version of the bill out of their hats this morning.

(UPDATE: After an absurdly fast-paced and at times, borderline chaotic meeting in which many members of the public were not admitted due to the tiny committee room that was used, both bills were passed by voice votes and now move to the Senate floor.)

Commentary

Target assault weaponsAs yesterday’s panic at a shopping mall in Fayetteville makes clear, average Americans are rightfully terrified at the idea of people openly walking around carrying guns in public venues of this kind. They do no want it and it clearly needs to be unlawful throughout the United States. Moreover, a completely clear and permanent ban on such behavior would have no effect on “concealed carry” holders or hunters or the right of people generally to own guns.

Given this plain and simple reality, the least the NRA and other Second Amendment enthusiasts could do is to loudly and publicly support efforts to prohibit such behavior and the terror it understandably causes in the general public.

Come on, NRA. what do you say? How about helping to find one small island of common ground?

Commentary, News

Health numbers1. Senate pushes to eliminate health retirement benefits for North Carolina’s teachers and state retirees

Buried deep in the Senate budget proposal that lawmakers passed last week is a provision that would eliminate state-paid health retirement benefits for teachers and state employees who are hired after January 1, 2016.

“This puts the state at a major disadvantage in the recruitment and retention of state employees, teachers, and university faculty compared to other states,” said Chuck Stone, director of operations for the State Employees Association of NC (SEANC), of the Senate’s push to jettison the health retirement benefit.

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Berger-Moore-McCrory2. The missing sense of urgency in Raleigh

It promises to be a long hot summer in the Legislative Building in Raleigh as House and Senate leaders try to come up with a final budget agreement for the next two years with hundreds of millions of dollars and dozens of policy issues in dispute between the two chambers’ spending plans.

A report prepared by staff members that lists the differences between the House and Senate budget runs 372 pages long and does not include many of the major policy sticking points like Medicaid reform and changing the way local sales tax revenues are distributed.

Nobody seems eager to start tackling the daunting process. Speaker Tim Moore says the House is prepared to stay in Raleigh and Senate leaders vow not to adjourn until Medicaid reform is finished.

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Fair-housing3. Senate budget also took aim at anti-discrimination law

North Carolina might scale back its efforts to fight unlawful discrimination, if a Senate budget provision to repeal the state’s fair housing act is adopted as law.
The provision, which would repeal the State Fair Housing Act and shut down the state office that investigates discrimination complaints, was buried deep in the 500-plus budget (pages 390-391) that was made public and quickly passed the chamber last week.

The elimination of the state anti-discrimination measures got no attention during debates when the budget passed the Republican-controlled Senate last Thursday.

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Voter ID4. Lesson learned on Voter ID

Last week’s abrupt turnabout in the General Assembly on Voter ID surprised lawmakers on both sides of the aisle as well as attorneys in the lawsuits set for trial this summer.

The changes, which include provisions allowing voters lacking photo ID to cast a provisional ballot once they’ve signed a sworn statement indicating that they had a “reasonable impediment” to getting such an ID, surfaced at the last minute as part of a joint House and Senate compromise to House Bill 836.

The House, while supporting the changes as improvements on an otherwise bad law, decried the lack of process and wondered aloud what happened to bring about such a quick reversal.

“Why now,” asked Rep. Mickey Michaux. “This could have been done two years ago.”

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Gun tragedy5. Hints of hope amongst the carnage: Average North Carolinians are pushing back against the gun fundamentalists…and winning

It’s hard to feel very optimistic about much of anything in the aftermath of last week’s horrific tragedy/terrorist act in South Carolina. The idea that a hate-filled sociopath could and would enter a sanctuary of peace and then execute nine innocent, welcoming people with whom he had been purporting to engage in Bible study minutes before is so shocking and disturbing that it almost renders rational responses impossible….

And yet, unspeakably horrific as the murders were, there are growing signs that maybe, just maybe, the cumulative impact of this nation’s ever-lengthening list of mass murders and racist hate crimes is finally starting to move public opinion and policy in a positive direction.

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Commentary

GunsOne of the best op-eds of the weekend came, as usual, from Ned Barnett of Raleigh’s News & Observer who shined a light on some courageous folks who’ve been working to stop the General Assembly’s latest nonsensical push to further the spread of easy guns into every nook and cranny.

In “Code orange in North Carolina for moms v. guns,” Barnett highlights the work of local activists with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America who are slowly, step by step, beginning to turn the state’s gun debate around.

The group’s top objective this year: to stop House Bill 562, the proposal to repeal the state’s successful pistol permitting system and to further loosen the state’s already minimal gun control laws. Happily, as we noted here last Friday, the group seems to be making some headway. Whereas the General Assembly has acted as a rubber stamp for the gun lobby in recent years, this time the votes are very close.

Let’s hope the group succeed this week with its efforts to halt or further water down the gun proposal. It’s currently on the House calendar for tonight. Whatever happens though, the best news is this: the activists moms highlighted Barnett say they’re just getting started:

“Members of the moms group know there’s no repealing the Second Amendment. But they think there’s room to make a difference in the margins. One step is to lobby for laws promoting the safe storage of guns. Four children have already been accidentally shot in North Carolina this year. Another is to protect laws already on the books, such as the sheriffs’ review of pistol permit requests. .

Sarah Green, 36, of Winston-Salem, is a mother of three and the volunteer leader of the North Carolina chapter of the moms group. She said the national organization has responded to the inability to get gun control laws through Congress by focusing on the states. Her hope is that Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America can attain the same level of influence achieved by Moms Against Drunk Driving. Green’s group recently posted an interactive map of unintentional shootings involving a person 17 or under.

‘We don’t feel like it’s a futile effort, but we realize this is a marathon, not a sprint,’ Green says. ‘We’re committed. We’re parents. The gun lobby fears losing their guns. We fear losing our children.’”