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2014 voters would decide on state eminent domain amendment

A proposed North Carolina constitutional amendment would ask voters in the 2014 election to restrict eminent domain. The bill carrying the amendment passed the House on Wednesday in a 103-10 vote.

Originally House Bill 8, the legislation stopped moving after landing in a committee in April. Its contents were added to a Senate boating safety bill so it would have a chance of becoming law this session. Rep. Chuck McGrady, a Hendersonville Republican and the House bill’s sponsor, said the text hadn't changed substantially. Rep. Paul Stam, an Apex Republican, added an amendment updating the technology referenced. The amendment has passed the House before but stalled in the Senate, and could do so again.

Morning Memo: As House votes on abortion bill, what will McCrory do?

ABORTION DEBATE DOMINATES AGENDA: N.C. House lawmakers will focus on social issues Thursday, scheduling a three-hour debate on an abortion bill that critics say will restrict access but supporters argue is aimed at safety standards. Republicans will get one hour to push the measure while Democrats will get two hours to rebutt the controversial bill that is putting North Carolina in the national spotlight along with Texas. The House convenes at 11 a.m.

VETO THREAT: Pandering or real? Republican Gov. Pat McCrory publicly warned on Wednesday morning that he would reject the Senate’s bill unless his public health agency’s concerns about it were resolved. The threat came even as his administration and key House members were signing off on a rewrite of the bill, which was unveiled less than two hours later in a legislative committee. His statement came at 8:30 a.m. A House committee took up the new bill two hours later. The move allowed McCrory to appear like a hero to womens rights groups who had pushed him to uphold his campaign pledge not to sign new abortion restrictions into law. But his legislative team likewise worked with House members to craft the new measure those groups oppose. The question now: Will he sign or allow the newest bill to become law?

***Read a scene-setter on the abortion legislation and more North Carolina political news below in the Dome Morning Memo.***

Constitutional amendment on property rights headed to House floor

House lawmakers are reviving an effort to put a constitutional amendment before voters that prohibits governments from taking private property for economic development through eminent domain.

The amendment -- approved by a House committee Wednesday and headed to the full House next -- would appear on the November 2014 ballot. Other provisions would make changes to state law effective upon passage. The House passed a similar version in the previous legislative session by a wide margin but the Senate didn't vote on the legislation.

"It will not stop all eminent domain but it would stop the parts of it that violate the property rights," said Rep. Paul "Skip" Stam, an Apex Republican.

Constitutional amendments this week

The legislature may consider changes to the state constitution Thursday.

A House bill filed this afternoon would allow the legislature to expand its redistricting/ veto override/election laws session to include constitutional amendments.

The three constitutional amendments they'll deal with are eminent domain, term limits for the House Speaker and Senate leader, and making the state Superintendent of Public Instruction the chairman of the State Board of Education.

Constitutional amendments must receive 3/5th votes in each chamber to get on a ballot for voters. 

First things first for a GOP House

State Republicans wrote a list of the eight things they'll do in the first 100 days of the legislative session if they win majorities in the state House and Senate this election.

Rep. Paul Stam, an Apex Republican and the House minority leader, thinks the House can pass a proposed constitutional amendment that would limit the government's use of eminent domain within a week, if not a day.

The bill has passed the House twice, only to get bottled up in the Senate. The N.C. League of Municipalities has opposed the bill. Stam has championed the idea for years.

"The House has already seen it five times," he said. "I believe we could pass that if not the first day, the first week."

Legislative committees aren't appointed that quickly, but Stam said it's worth considering making a special committee of all House members so they can vote right away.

Stam's pet bill passes a key vote

After years of trying, Rep. Paul "Skip" Stam appears likely to get a bill passed in the state House requiring a statewide referendum on a proposed amendment to the state Constitution restricting the government's ability to seize private property.

Stam, an Apex lawyer who is the Republican leader in the House, has long championed the bill, which would prohibit the government from using eminent domain for the purpose of selling the property for economic development. The amendment would also establish in the constitution that government can't take property without just compensation.

The bill passed its second reading in the House Monday night by a comfortable margin of 100-14, after surprisingly little debate.

If it passes a third vote Tuesday, the bill will head to the state Senate, where its odds of passage could be helped by last year's departure of longtime Majority Leader Tony Rand, who had opposed the measure in past legislative sessions.

If approved, voters would see the proposed amendment on their ballots in November 2012.

Eminently meaningless?

Will Sen. Tony Rand's departure from the legislature mean that the bill seeking to limit local government's use of eminent domain will have a big Senate shoe lifted from its neck?

Rep. Paul Stam, an Apex Republiican and House minority leader, hopes that with Rand gone, the bill might have DOA erased from its margins.

How much would it matter?

Tyler Mulligan, an assistant professor of public law and government at the N.C. School of Government, writes that the amendment wouldn't much change current practices.

You can read Mulligan's post on the topic on the School of Government blog.

Rand's departure means hope for some

The departure of state Sen. Tony Rand has a lot of people wondering how the Senate will operate without the powerful master of rules, legislative maneuvers and hard-ball politics.

It even has state Rep. Paul Stam wondering if he'll finally get a favorite bill passed in the Senate. Stam, an Apex Republican and the chamber's minority leader, told Dome the other day that this could be the year that he gets a hearing in the Senate on a proposed constitutional amendment that would limit the government's use of eminent domain.

Stam just happened to have a copy of the bill with him, leading Dome to wonder if he carries it wherever he goes. The bill, which would prohibit the use of eminent domain if land would then be sold for economic development, didn't clear the House this year, but Stam said the Senate, and particularly Rand, have been the major obstacle in past years.

Dome asked whether Rand was the impediment or whether Rand was carrying out the wishes of the Democratic majority.

"That's what we'll find out," Stam said.

Domain bill condemned to committee

The House sent a proposed constitutional amendment restricting condemnations back to committee.

The amendment would prohibit the government from taking property through eminent domain for the purpose of selling the property for economic development. The amendment would also establish in the constitution that government can't take property without just compensation.

"It is a universal desire of all people in all cultures and all places that they want their property secure from a taking by the governmet or a taking by anybody," said Rep. Paul Stam, a co-sponsor of the bill and an Apex Republican.

House members said the bill should be taken off the House floor because Stam offered amendments to the bill.

"It just bothers me that we have a bill on the floor to amend the constitution and we're going to amend it at the last minute," said Rep. Ronnie Sutton, a Pembroke Democrat.

Stam said his amendments were minor and not unusual and were being used as an excuse by opponents to kill the bill.

The House voted 60 to 56 to send the bill back to committee.

Another strategy for controversial bills

How should you title a bill on a controversial subject?

Another strategy: Don't say what you're doing.

As noted previously, one strategy is to give your bill either a heroic or bland title that gives no indication of its subject matter. But in some cases, you can mention the subject, as long as you leave out a crucial verb:

Eminent Domain: Compensate nonprofits whose properties are taken by the government at a higher price than fair-market value.

Access to Higher Education: Prohibit state colleges and community colleges from asking students whether they are illegal immigrants.

Modify Charter School Law: Among other things, change the cap on charter schools to allow six more to open each year.

The third bill is especially instructive when compared to titles of other bills that would raise or eliminate the cap on charter schools: Raise Cap on Charter Schools, Eliminate the Cap on Charter Schools, Remove Cap on the Number of Charter Schools and Increase Cap on Charter Schools.

Similar, but still more direct: Allow Charter Schools in 100 Counties.

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