The latest short legislative session adjourned Tuesday with some progress. The most substantial effort made during this session was the Senate’s passage of Senate Bill 9, which essentially repeals the Racial Justice Act (RJA). The RJA was passed in 2009 with the intent of reducing racial discrimination in the application of the death penalty. However, its implementation allowed inmates to appeal their sentences based only on statistical trends which indicate the presence of racial biases in death penalty application—but not requiring defendants to prove they had actually been the victims of discrimination. This measure has led to 154 of the 157 criminals sitting on death row to appeal their sentence, essentially resulting in a moratorium on the death penalty. RJA has left prosecutors scrambling to try to deal with these appeals in addition to an already overwhelming caseload. This bill now awaits Governor Perdue’s approval, though she has made no indications to whether she will sign or veto the bill.
The House also passed House Bill 645 to cap the gas tax. State revenue officials predicted that according to the state’s gas tax formula, the tax would rise to a record high of almost 39 cents—giving North Carolina one of the highest gas taxes in the country. While Democrats initially opposed the bill because they believed the lost revenue would cost government jobs, many still voted to pass the bill due to its broad support. Republicans also claimed that allowing the gas tax to rise would cost private jobs due to rising expenses. Unfortunately, the Senate adjourned before addressing this bill.
Finally, a House committee passed a nonbinding resolution requesting the Democratic National Convention (DNC) to “respect North Carolina’s right to work laws.” This issue stems from accusations that the DNC, which plans to host its 2012 Convention in Charlotte, issued a contract for the Convention to a business from outside North Carolina because it was unionized and its in-state competitor was not. The resolution asked the DNC to refrain from hiring businesses from outside North Carolina if qualified businesses were available within the state. Democrats called these accusations politicking by opposing interests, having granted contracts to other, non-union businesses. The criticisms remain, however, that in this period of economic hardship, the DNC gave jobs for a large convention in NC to workers from outside the state.
Despite this legislative activity, many important issues remained untouched. Voter ID remains popular and is still awaiting an override. The Energy Jobs Act also awaits an override vote in hopes of allowing NC to tap its natural gas reserves and provide a new source of jobs. These issues, among others, must now wait to be addressed by the General Assembly until at least the next tentative session on February 16, 2012.