Tuesday News: NC, First in Pollution

SENATE GOP LOVES PLASTIC BAGS, HATES RIPARIAN BUFFERS: Banning plastic shopping bags from Outer Banks beaches – a personal mission of former Democratic Senate leader Marc Basnight eight years ago – would be undone in a bill Republican lawmakers are pushing. Senate Bill 434 would repeal the bag ban, lessen stream protections and deregulate other environmental procedures as part of the GOP’s ongoing drive to give businesses a break from what they consider unnecessary or overly burdensome rules. “The Senate appears to be becoming a no-science zone,” Molly Diggins, state director of The Sierra Club, said in a statement. “Yet the threats to our environment demand laws that are supported by careful research and informed by a full discussion of relevant data, with broad stakeholder input. Legislation by personal opinion has no place in environmental policy.”

NC HOUSE AWARDS $750,000 TO MARK JOHNSON TO HIRE STAFF: House Bill 838, giving nearly $750,000 to Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson to hire staff without the approval of the State Board of Education, 76-41. The measure is the latest step in a power struggle between Johnson and the board. He recently filed an affidavit in a lawsuit complaining about his inability to hire support staff to carry out his vision for the agency. While opponents of the measure cautioned against wading into active litigation, sponsor Rep. Hugh Blackwell, R-Burke, said the House ought to "consider letting the superintendent choose less than 1 percent of the employees in the building without having to get the state board’s approval." The measure is now headed for the Senate.

TRANSPORTATION COMMITTEE CHAIR REFUSES FORMAL VOTE COUNT: The N.C. House Transportation Committee held a split voice vote on a controversial bill Monday, but chairman John Torbett rejected a fellow Republican’s request to hold a formal vote count. Torbett, a Gaston County Republican, announced that the bill had a majority of support to pass the committee. A reporter in the room heard a much louder group of “no” votes than “aye” votes. Rep. George Cleveland, a Jacksonville Republican, immediately called for a formal vote count, but Torbett said the request came too late and moved on to the next bill. Torbett defended his decision after the meeting. “It was like a gathering of angels shouting ‘aye,’” he told a reporter with a smile.

INACCURATELY NAMED "FREE SPEECH" BILL PASSES WITH REVISIONS: Less than a week after a bill to "restore and preserve campus free speech" throughout the University of North Carolina system failed in a House committee, a revised version resurfaced Monday night and sailed through with the approval of UNC officials. House Bill 527 calls for the UNC Board of Governors to craft a policy on free expression that can be limited only by "narrowly tailored viewpoint- and content-neutral restrictions on time, place, and manner of expression" and includes a range of disciplinary sanctions for anyone who "substantially disrupts the functioning of the constituent institution or substantially interferes with the protected free expression rights of others."

GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN LESS LIKELY AS TRUMP BACKS OFF DEMAND FOR BORDER WALL FUNDING: Bipartisan bargainers are making progress toward a budget deal to prevent a partial federal shutdown this weekend, a major hurdle overcome when President Donald Trump signaled he would put off his demand that the measure include money to build his border wall with Mexico. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., approved of Trump’s apparent shift. “The president’s comments this evening are welcome news given the bipartisan opposition to the wall, and the obstacle it has been to the continuing bipartisan negotiations in the appropriations committees,” she said in a statement late Monday.