- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 24, 2014

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - A North Carolina House committee Tuesday approved two bills aimed at reducing industry regulation by the state, but also included dozens of provisions on other issues ranging from mug shot websites and tanning beds to mandating insurance coverage for autism.

The bills were parts of a large single bill that members of the same committee balked at last week. Lawmakers from both parties were upset the original 45-page bill was rushed and had several wide-ranging provisions that had nothing to do with regulatory reform.

A key House member on regulatory issues says improvements have been made. Several contentious items in last week’s bill were replaced with General Assembly studies on those issues.

“We are closer than we were a week ago,” said Rep. Tom Murry, R-Wake, the committee’s chairman.

As this year’s General Assembly work session winds down soon, the bills will have to move quickly through the full House and be approved by the Senate to head to Gov. Pat McCrory’s desk. The Senate has different ideas on what regulatory changes should be made.

Lawmakers have been weighing this year whether websites should be allowed to post mug shots online of crime suspects and charge people to take them down. One of the two bills approved Tuesday now directs two state agencies to study whether the photos should remain public records and report their findings by the end of the year.

A contentious provision that would prevent city residents through petition drives to block rezoning requests was kept in the bill after two amendments to remove or modify it were defeated.

Opponents of the provision said blocking developers from changing a neighborhood allowed people to have security when buying property.

“This is a tool that allows neighbors to have a voice in this debate, it’s been important for a number of neighborhoods,” said Rep. Pricey Harrison, D-Guilford, pointing to Greensboro communities.

Supporters, mostly Republicans, said blocking rezoning requests through protest petitions allowed individual residents to extort developers.

“It’s not democratic,” said Rep. Paul Stam, R-Wake. “I believe cities should be free.”

The committee agreed to a provision requiring health insurance companies regulated by the state to cover a particular therapy for autism patients in one bill. Autism advocates have lobbied for the coverage for years, and the House passed a separate bill mandating companies to cover $36,000 of treatment last year. Senate leaders have not taken up the bill and have said they’re unsure how it would affect the rollout of the federal health care overhaul.

The bill also retained a measure that bans children and teenagers younger than 18 from using a tanning bed.

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