- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 29, 2015

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - North Carolina lawmakers worked into the night Tuesday to try to wrap up this year’s protracted General Assembly session by early Wednesday.

The Senate and House went in and out of floor debates and committees throughout the day and gave final approval to many bills now heading to Gov. Pat McCrory’s desk. They remained at work late Tuesday evening.

House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, and Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, said they hoped to adjourn the session shortly after midnight Tuesday. The legislature, which began meeting in mid-January and has held the longest budget-writing session since 2001, won’t be scheduled to return to Raleigh until late April.

Here’s some of the legislation lawmakers have considered and debated:

IMMIGRATION

The legislature sent to McCrory an immigration bill that in part prevents government officials in most cases from using certain identification documents from foreign governments and those issued by local governments and organizations to determine a person’s ID or residency.

The House voted 70-43 to approve Senate changes to the measure, which also would block local governments from instructing law enforcement and other officials not to ask the immigration status of people with whom they come into contact. Critics call a handful of North Carolina municipalities that back such policies “sanctuary cities.”

The vote followed impassioned discussion about immigration and whether lawmakers who backed the bill were cruel and fueling anger against immigrants in the country unlawfully due to federal inaction on reform.

“It’s shameful,” said Rep. Charles Graham, D-Robeson, who opposed the bill. “Let’s let the feds deal with this issue. Why do we need to do this today?”

Bill supporters said the state has an obligation to keep its citizens safe and discourage immigrants from being in the country unlawfully.

The measure “protects jobs, it protects taxpayer resources,” said Rep. Chris Whitmire, R-Transylvania. “This bill also encourages work.”

Lawmakers tried to fix portions of the ratified bill in separate legislation pending Tuesday night. It would allow police to use the ID cards from local government or nonprofits to help determine residency or identity.

DEER FARMING

A negotiated farm regulation bill that received final legislative approval left out several contentious provisions, but retained one that would transfer control of the state’s captive deer program from the state Wildlife Resources Commission to the Department of Agriculture.

The House voted 70-44 and the Senate 42-2 for the legislation, which now goes to McCrory.

The bill contained nearly 40 changes to agriculture-related laws, but the transfer of the “cervid deer” program received the most debate. Deer farming in North Carolina currently is relatively small, with deer raised for large antlers and for game in enclosed hunting grounds. Deer farmers see the transfer as a way to expand the industry.

Rep. Jimmy Dixon, R-Duplin, a farmer, said the transfer has support from Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler and the commission’s executive director.

Other House members opposing the change in regulation said it would increase the possibility that chronic wasting disease - a fatal illness affecting deer in other states - will reach North Carolina.

HOSPITAL HELP

Beaufort County residents came to the Legislative Building as the Senate gave final General Assembly approval to a House bill designed in part to help them get around a hurdle in re-opening the Pungo Hospital in Belhaven.

Vidant Health took over the hospital in 2011 but closed it 15 months ago in part due to operating losses. While Vidant is building a new health facility, local officials led by Belhaven Mayor Adam O’Neal say a hospital with emergency services is needed.

The measure directs the Department of Health and Human Services to define “legacy medical care facilities” as those that would be exempted from certificate of need rules to reopen its doors.

AUTISM SERVICES

The General Assembly gave final approval to legislation directing health insurance plans under state regulation to cover services for the diagnosis and treatment for people with autism disorders.

The Senate voted 46-1 in favor of the House version of the measure. It does allow insurers to halt coverage at age 18 and set a coverage ceiling of $40,000 per year. The bill next heads to McCrory.

INDUSTRIAL HEMP

The legislature voted to revive the ability of farmers to grow industrial-grade hemp, which has been banned for decades because of its connection to marijuana.

The Senate gave final approval to allow the creation of a state Industrial Hemp Commission that could issue licenses for farmers to grow the crop and obtain federal waivers to establish a pilot program. Last year’s federal farm bill allowed industrial hemp to be grown for research purposes only.

Industrial hemp has myriad commercial uses and has a small fraction of the active ingredient that produces the high when smoked.

The bill now goes to McCrory’s desk.

COURT OF APPEALS

With a House vote of 70-44, lawmakers gave final approval to a measure requiring that ballots with Court of Appeals races on them include the party affiliation of each candidate next to the person’s name or indicate if that person is unaffiliated. Such races for the state’s 15-member intermediate appeals court would still be considered officially nonpartisan.


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