UPDATE: General Assembly closes session
by Kellen Short
The N.C. General Assembly closed its session Friday after passing bills on abortion, voter ID and a regulatory reform bill that would require carbon monoxide detectors in hotels statewide.
Senators finished their work shortly before 2 a.m. Friday, while the House of Representatives convened once more at 9 a.m. Friday to wrap up final matters.
In a press conference Friday afternoon, Gov. Pat McCrory said he planned to sign the abortion and voter ID bills but raised concerns about parts of the regulatory reform bill that may lead him to veto. He thanked the legislature for its work during the first six months of his term in office.
"I'm very pleased with the reform that we've enacted," McCrory said. " ... We have a lot more work to do. This is just the first step."
The Senate voted 32-13 Thursday to approve the House's version of a sweeping bill on abortion, a bill that was originally created to increase motorcyclist safety.
The bill requires that doctors performing surgical abortions must be present for the entire procedure and doctors providing drug or chemical abortions must be in the same room when the woman takes the first dose.
It also authorizes the Department of Health and Human Services to hold abortion providers to the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers. The department is expected to study the issue and report back to the General Assembly in early 2014 on its progress amending the rules.
The bill prohibits insurance plans offered under the N.C. health insurance exchange -- part of the federal health care law that goes into effect in October -- from covering abortion costs except in cases of rape, incest or threats to the mother's health. Cities and counties' insurance plans also cannot provide abortion coverage greater than the state employees' plan.
It also prohibits sex-selective abortions.
Sen. Dan Soucek of Boone was a sponsor of the bill, and Rep. Jonathan Jordan of Jefferson voted in its favor.
Proponents of the bill say it increases the safety of patients seeking abortions, while opponents say it limits access to the procedure.
Asked on the campaign trail, McCrory said he would support no new restrictions on abortions.
"We are not signing a bill which would limit future access," he said Friday, reiterating his view that the bill was about safety.
He noted that his appointee, DHHS Secretary Andona Wos, would be writing the new standards, and said his goal was to keep open every abortion facility that is currently open today.
"My campaign promise is fulfilled," he said.
Voter ID required
A bill requiring voters to present a government-issued photo ID before casting a ballot starting in 2016 passed late Thursday night and is now headed to the governor's desk.
The "Voter Information Verification Act" accepts a driver's license, DMV-issued identification card, U.S. passport, military or veteran ID card, tribal ID card or a driver's license from another state -- if the voter registered within 90 days of the election. College-issued student IDs will not be accepted.
It does not require photo ID of people who prove they have a sincere religious objection to being photographed, and people older than 70 can present expired IDs.
The act allows anyone who does not have an accepted form of photo ID to get one free from the DMV.
It also shortens the early voting period by one week while expanding the hours that the polling sites will be open during early voting. The bill also eliminates same-day registration and voting, straight-ticket voting and pre-registration of certain teens who will turn 18 by the time of the election.
The Senate passed the bill 33-14, while the House voted 73-41 in favor. Both Jordan and Soucek voted in favor of the changes.
Soucek took the floor Thursday afternoon to speak briefly in
favor of the bill. He said requiring a photo ID of voters would increase the
integrity of the election and give voters confidence in the system.
"I say that this encourages people to vote, and we see the evidence in other states," Soucek said.
Experts are speculating that the U.S. Department of Justice may intercede to stop the changes.
N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper urged McCrory on Friday to veto the measure.
"With a veto, you can encourage more people to be involved in the political process, stop this bad public policy and prevent the confusion and cost of a legal battle," Cooper wrote.
But McCrory pledged to sign what he called a "common sense" bill.
Both houses also voted in favor of a bill that deals with regulatory issues -- including a requirement that lodging establishments install carbon monoxide detectors.
Starting in October, lodging establishments would be required to install carbon monoxide detectors in every enclosed space that contains a fuel-burning appliance and any rooms that share a wall, floor or ceiling with those spaces.
That segment of the bill was added this spring after the deaths of three people from carbon monoxide exposure at Boone's Best Western hotel.
Darrell Williams, the uncle of an 11-year-old boy who died at the hotel, told The Charlotte Observer earlier this week that he didn't think the bill went far enough to protect hotel guests.
McCrory said Friday that he was still reviewing the entire bill and had concerns about parts that related to billboards and landfills. He said he would decide soon whether to veto the bill.
Unless a special session is called, the House and Senate will reconvene May 14, 2014.