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Our Opinion: Rating the bills in N.C. House’s filing frenzy

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It may be spring in North Carolina, but a blizzard of bills filed in the state House on Tuesday means lawmakers will be shoveling out from the avalanche till month’s end.

A dizzying 127 bills were introduced in a single day. The reason for the rush? An impending Easter break on the General Assembly calendar and the looming April 27 crossover deadline. Legislation must pass in the chamber where it originated by that date in order to remain viable.

THE GOOD

House Bill 735, sponsored by Rep. John Blust, R-Guilford, would establish an independent redistricting commission and automate the mapmaking process for North Carolina’s legislative and congressional districts through computer software that uses politically neutral criteria.

House Bill 737, the Open Primary Act, would increase participation by unaffiliated candidates and loosen the two-party system’s stranglehold on the electoral process by allowing independents nominated by 10,000 registered voters to compete in an open primary. It is sponsored by Rep. Ken Goodman, D-Richmond.

House Bill 738, the Opioid Prescription and Treatment Opt-Out Act, would provide patients with the right to insist that their doctors provide non-opioid alternatives to narcotic painkillers. Signed opt-out forms would become part of a patient’s medical records and, once signed and executed in a physician’s presence, would require doctors they may see in the future to honor the patient’s wishes. Given the high potential for addiction, many patients might wish to avoid being treated with opioid drugs. We favor any legislation that recognizes individuals’ ownership of and autonomy over their health care. Rep. Mary Belk, D-Mecklenburg, introduced this bill, and our own Jean Farmer-Butterfield, D-Wilson, signed on as a co-sponsor.

House Bill 777, sponsored by Rep. Mitchell Setzer, R-Catawba, would provide due-process rights to UNC System students who face disciplinary hearings on sexual misconduct allegations. Under federal law, colleges are required to hold campus tribunals when such incidents are reported, but accused students can be railroaded in the farcical proceedings. We maintain that sexual crimes should be adjudicated in the criminal justice system and that campus hearings do a disservice to both victims and defendants, since the worst punishment college administrators can mete out is expulsion.

THE BAD

House Bill 827, sponsored by Rep. Duane Hall, D-Wake, would make it unlawful to drive slower than the posted speed limit while in the left lane of any major highway. Violators would be fined $200. As much as we loathe getting stuck behind someone plodding along in the passing lane, this is a relatively minor annoyance that doesn’t call for the heavy hand of government. Don’t car horns still work?

House Bill 831, the Brian Garlock Act, would outlaw drivers’ use of cellphones while operating a motor vehicle unless hands-free technology is utilized. North Carolina already has a texting-and-driving ban, making this bill largely redundant. Driver distractions should be weighed as aggravating factors when they contribute to crashes, not stand-alone infractions that result in more traffic tickets. The bill was introduced by Rep. Michael Wray, D-Halifax.

THE UGLY

House Bill 780, the Uphold Historical Marriage Act, would reassert the state constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman in open defiance of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges ruling, which made same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states. Rep. Larry Pittman, R-Cabarrus, introduced this frivolous waste of ink and paper. The U.S. Constitution makes it abundantly clear that federal law trumps state law. House Speaker Tim Moore effectively killed the bill, but it’s still generating bad publicity for a state on the mend from a bruising battle over bathroom rules.

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