- Associated Press - Friday, June 24, 2016

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - The state Senate completed an unusual Friday workday, pushing several key bills forward in an effort to wrap up the General Assembly’s 2016 session as quickly as possible.

Committees advanced dozens of bills, including proposed legislation on immigration, city council redistricting, a proposed Achievement School District and a constitutional amendment to lower the state’s income tax cap.

The full Senate also approved a measure that makes it illegal for anyone under 18 to buy or possess products containing the herbal stimulant Kratom.

House and Senate leaders remained in continued budget negotiations Friday evening.

Both chambers will reconvene Monday.

ACHIEVEMENT SCHOOL DISTRICTS

Struggling North Carolina elementary schools could be placed in a new, charter-operated district pilot program under a measure that cleared the Senate Education Committee.

A newly appointed Achievement School District superintendent would choose charter companies with proven success to run the schools that have fallen to the bottom 5 percent in performance for three consecutive years. The charter companies would have hiring and firing powers and would be exempt from state requirements such as oversight and evaluations from local school boards.

Opponents said the measure snatches control from local school boards and coerces poor communities into school takeovers.

Sen. Chad Barefoot, R-Wake, who is shepherding the bill through the Senate, defended the bill as an innovative solution for low-performing schools and an improvement over the status quo.

ASHEVILLE CITY COUNCIL ELECTIONS

The Senate Redistricting Committee passed a measure to conduct Asheville city council elections through six districts in order to amplify voices from the city’s Republican minority.

Republican Sen. Tom Apodaca of Henderson County said the current system of at-large elections does not accurately represent a portion of his Republican constituents in South Asheville.

Asheville mayor Esther Manheimer, a Democrat, told the committee the city is not interested in state lawmakers’ governing instructions and asked for changes in city council elections to be made through voter referendum, if at all.

CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS

The Senate Rules Committee lumped three proposed constitutional amendments into one bill with the aim of passing them in time to seek voter approval this fall. The proposals would cap the state income tax at 5.5 percent, declare it a right for people to hunt and fish in North Carolina and ensure governments can’t condemn someone’s land solely for private economic development.

Constitutional amendments require three-fifths approval of each chamber of the General Assembly. If passed, the three proposals could then be submitted to voters for their consideration on the general election ballot Nov. 8.

IMMIGRATION

The Senate Appropriations Committee approved a bill to withhold state dollars from cities or counties that accept identification cards from nonprofit organizations or establish “sanctuary policies” limiting enforcement of federal immigration law.

The bill would strike from state law an exemption for law enforcement to use the ID cards, and would craft a form for people to report to the attorney general a city, county or law enforcement agency they believe is out of compliance with immigration policies.

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