N.C. House passes bill making dozens of changes

The Associated Press

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RALEIGH — The employees of for-profit education companies could sit on the boards of public charter schools under a Republican-backed bill the North Carolina House passed Friday.

GOP lawmakers overwhelmingly approved the 58-page technical corrections bill over the objections of Democrats and some members of their own party who complained they had not been given enough time to read and review the legislation, which was first unveiled to the public Thursday.

While many of the provisions were indeed technical, such as fixing typos in bills passed earlier in the legislative session, the bill also makes dozens of substantive changes to North Carolina laws. The measure now heads to the state Senate.

Such bills are something of an annual tradition at the state legislature, typically coming in the waning days of the legislative session as a way for lawmakers and special interests to anonymously insert pet provisions without having to publicly advocate for them. Often, precisely what the “corrections” in the bill actually do is not widely recognized until after the legislation has already passed.

Rep. John Blust, R-Guilford, broke party ranks to vote against the bill.

“I think we need to stop and take a look at ourselves a little bit here, because this is not the way laws are supposed to be made,” said Blust, a lawyer.

One measure included in the bill prohibits the State Board of Education from restricting membership on boards of directors of publicly funded charter schools. The state currently bars employees of companies that provide services to charter schools from serving on the nonprofit boards that approve their contracts and payments.

State Schools Superintendent June Atkinson warned on Friday that the change could create conflicts of interest on the nonprofit boards, where the representatives of for-profit corporations hired to run some charter schools would get a say in how much taxpayer money to award their employers.

“They would effectively be placed in charge of evaluating themselves,” said Atkinson, a Democrat.

During the lengthy debate about the bill on the House floor, no lawmaker argued for why it would be beneficial for the corporate employees to serve on the boards.

The bill also makes several changes to state gun laws, including the elimination of a statute that took effect July 1 requiring local clerks of court to notify the National Instant Criminal Background Check System of information that would bar an individual from legally purchasing a handgun. Gun-control groups have long pushed states to implement such reporting requirements following mass shootings in which the killers successfully purchased handguns in one state despite records in another state that should have barred them from doing so, such as domestic violence protection orders or involuntary commitments to mental institutions.

A provision that would have eliminated the state’s Child Fatality Task Force was stripped after Democrats and some Republicans objected. The commission studies the causes of death among children and makes recommendations about how to prevent them.

Rep. Paul “Skip” Stam, R-Wake, serves on the task force. Though he is a high-ranking member of the Republican leadership, he didn’t know how the provision eliminating the commission had gotten into the bill.

“I don’t know where it came from,” Stam said. “This just sort of came forth like Aphrodite from the sea foam of the Aegean, without mother or father.”