Thursday at the General Assembly

I don't know if this is a complete summary of the legislature's public activities or not, but I DO know that none of it matters much. The Big Boys haven't finished their final deals in the back rooms yet, and nothing counts until they do the secret handshake. It's a long article, but worth the read if you're interested in how the boys and girls in Raleigh are doing the people's bidness. More below the fold.

Drug dealer liability

A father of a dead drug addict told a Senate judiciary committee that drug dealers should be liable for the spoiled lives of drug users. Keith Thompson of Wilmington, through the help of state Sen. Julia Boseman, D-New Hanover, has proposed a bill that would allow families, employers, acquaintances or even individual narcotic users to sue dealers for economic, mental and physical damages. Under the bill, a dealer doesn't have to be responsible for the damages. Virtually any person or group - even the state - could sue against any convicted peddler. "Drug dealers are parasites in our community," Thompson told the committee, which took no vote. "They suck the quality of life from our citizens. We must use any and all means we can to continue this war on drugs. This is one tool." Thompson's daughter, Blaire, died of a heroin overdose at the age of 26. The state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina opposes the bill, arguing the measure is unconstitutional because the dealer sued doesn't have to be the one who causes the injury.

Any and all means to continue this war on drugs? You mean this totally ineffective, stupid, wasteful and destructive war on drugs? Between the war on drugs and the war on terror (not to mention the war on Christmas), I don't know how many more wars this country can stomach. But I do know that the ACLU gets most of these issues right and their view on this seems to pretty much nail the case against it.

Hang up

A Senate judiciary committee recommended a bill that would bar motorists under 18 from using their cell phones while driving. The committee approved the bill after rejecting an exemption for handsfree sets. The measure, which follows similar restrictions in at least 11 other states, is designed to help reduce accidents among the youngest drivers by reducing distractions. Teenagers who break the law would face about $110 in court costs, a $25 fine and another six months with limited driving privileges in some cases. The fine wasn't included in an earlier version of the bill. Some committee members sought unsuccessfully to remove handsfree phones from the bill, arguing that otherwise parents would have no way to get in touch easily with their children as they were driving. Arthur Goodwin with the University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center said talking on the phone - not the act of a punching the numbers of a cell phone or holding it up to speak - is what's distracting to drivers. The bill now should head to the full Senate for consideration.

Why stop at teens? There's plenty of evidence that cell phones cause accidents among adults too. And not just in cars. I saw a woman walk into a fire hydrant in NYC because she was talking on a phone. And for that matter, maybe we should just ban conversations in cars altogether. As the Safety Research Center guys ays, it's talking that's the problem, not dialing the number. Sheeesh.

Consumer finance

Several House members have filed a bill that would create a new type of loans they say are still needed even after payday lenders were pushed out of North Carolina by regulators. The measure would permit license firms to issue loans of up to $3,000 designed to help consumers improve their credit ratings when they repay them on time, helping them qualify for more traditional loans in the future. Rep. Beverly Earle, D-Mecklenburg, one of the sponsors, said working people with little access to credit need a way to rebuild their credit. But opponents of payday loans contend the plan proposed by the House is too similar to payday lending with high interest rates compared to credit cards and monthly fees that make it hard to get out of a cycle of debt. Attorney General Roy Cooper said in an interview that the state shouldn't rush to replace payday lending if the result will hurt consumers. The measure filed last week comes after the last three major companies offering payday loans in the state announced in March they would leave as part of a settlement with Cooper's office. The state's largest payday lender, Advance America, also agreed in December to shutter its doors after banking regulators agreed the company violated consumer finance laws by charging effective annual interest rates exceeding 400 percent.

This one smells already. The poor, often face with choices ranging from terrible to catastrophic, get screwed by business interests seven ways to Sunday. A $3000 loan with a 400% interest rate is just another nail in their coffins. Dear Roy: Don't let more bad shit happen to the people who can least afford it. (Don't bother discussing this with the free-market Puppets. They think the poor are just as happy as pigs in shit, as least according to John "the Stagemanager" Hood.)

Cable television changes

The House Finance Committee began discussing a bill that would give the state - instead of local governments - regulatory authority over who can provide television through cable or broadband Internet in North Carolina. Traditional phone companies such as BellSouth are interested in providing video over fiber-optic lines but don't want to go through the lengthy negotiations with cities to obtain service agreements. The bill would end local franchise agreements and require companies to get charters from the Utilities Commission to serve areas in the state. The state's cable television outfits are OK with a streamlined franchise process. But industry officials said there was room for improvements. Consumer advocates and operators of public access channels said they're worried that the plan won't prevent companies from picking and choosing from among the most profitable customers. But some consumers such as Debra DeCamillis of Raleigh told the panel she wants the bill passed because it will improve competition within the cable-style television markets by offering more choices and lowering prices. No vote was taken on the bill.

Letting the state of North Carolina take away choices of local governments in this area is a spectacularly BAD IDEA.

*****

There's more to the story. More nonsense about gas taxes and video poker, of course. And don't forget sex offenders.

Sex offenders

Both House and Senate judiciary committees debated bills designed to toughen rules on sex offenders. The House panel recommended a bill that would require convicted sex offenders in other states to register in North Carolina if they move to the state. The Division of Motor Vehicles also would be required to perform a check on a national sex offender registry before a person could receive a license. The House also considered legislation that would require the worst offenders to be monitored electronically once out of prison. The Senate also heard about a bill that would require nearly all the state's roughly 10,000 registered sex offenders to check in with sheriff's deputies more quickly and frequently.

I don't know whether any of these laws around sex offenders work or not, but I sure hope they do. It's a highly charged and emotional issue that's similar to "support the troops." Everyone is against sex offenders (as well they should be) and there's always a groundswell of support for keeping them under control. I personally know that if someone I love were raped or abused, I'd be tempted to reconsider my opposition to the death penalty. Which means it's hard for elected officials to ask tough questions about cost and effectiveness.

Happy Friday.