Tucker presses privacy, budget bills

Apr. 06, 2013 @ 04:39 PM

Sen. Tommy Tucker R-Union has been the primary sponsor of several broad-reaching bills this session.

Tucker is most proud of a bill to prevent the General Assembly from taking on debt more than 25 percent of the state’s outstanding debt using Certificates of Participation without voter approval.

From 2003 to 2009, while the GA was controlled by a Democratic majority, the state took on $3 billion in capital finance debt. This year, the state will pay about $709 million in principal interest. Much of that debt was spent on the university system, a cause Tucker does not begrudge, but legislator should be more responsible with new debt.

If passed, the law would require larger capital debts to be approved by voters.

“This will make sure future legislators can’t go on a spending spree like they used to,” Tucker said.

Tucker introduced a Senate version of a similar gun privacy bill introduced in the House earlier. If passed, it will make records of who gets a permit to buy a gun or carry a concealed handgun permit confidential and not public record. Now, the names and addresses of anyone who has applied for a permit to buy a gun or to carry a concealed gun is available to anyone who requests it.

In the Senate bill, the county sheriff will still keep a book listing all the pertinent information about who holds gun permits, but that will be only for state and local law enforcement officers to reference, not the public. Dealers will keep records of sales, but that is confidential also. The information will be maintained by the sheriff, SBI and clerks of court.

“I don’t think that information needs to be available to the public,” Tucker said. “That information can make them the target of criminals.”

There is also a bill to modernize the state personnel act. Tucker explained that as written now, it is more of a placeholder bill.

“We’re working with other agencies to make it possible for the executive branch to place people in certain positions,” Tucker said.

The governor could place a selected employee in a department without the current hiring restrictions.

“It’d also give the governor the ability to pay the person an amount comparable to the market rate,” he said. “Some of the state salaries are just too low to attract qualified applicants.”

A bill authorizing governments to recoup the cost to reproduce public records and charge for the personnel time used to compile the information.

“We hear stories about towns and counties that have their staff spend three or four hours researching information for various groups and members of the press who request certain information,” Tucker said.

The bill is not specifically to address the cost of fulfilling those requests, but more encouragement for people to be more specific about what they request.

“It’s just to encourage a behavior change,” Tucker said. “It’s to make people think more about what they want to request.”

Another bill would protect personal information about law enforcement officers, making it harder for the public to find out where officers live.

“In light of some of the reports of shootings of prosecutors and the superintendent of prisons in other places in the country, there should be a way to protect them from people who would do them harm,” he said.

Among other actions, the bill would let law enforcement officers list their work addresses instead of home addresses on things like their drivers license.

Another bill would give the State Ethics Commission governance over enforcing lobbying laws.

“I feel that ethics and lobbying regulation enforcement are very similar, so I think it should all be handled by the State Ethics Commission,” Tucker said.

The bill would take lobbying regulation power away from the Secretary of State and make it a responsibility of the Ethics Commission staff. All lobbyists would register with the Commission instead of the Secretary of State, which currently reviews finance reports and investigates violation complaints.  

The Commission will make all lobbyist and liaison personnel and authorizations of lobbyists’ principals in electronic, searchable format. The Commission will also do regular reviews of reports to make sure complete disclosure of expenditures. Complaints of this chapter and any records accumulated in the performance of a systematic review and any other records gathered in performing an investigation will be confidential.

Yet another bill would study ways to reduce the amount of paperwork law enforcement officers must do when charging someone with driving under the influence.

Tucker said he saw N.C. Highway Patrol troopers completing almost 23 different forms when charging a driver. The whole process takes more than two hours from the time the driver is stopped to when they are booked into county jail, he said.

A bill also would require the N.C. Department of Revenue to respond to personal income tax problems within a statutory timeframe.

“If the Department of Revenue has a question about a return, they send the individual a letter telling them they have two weeks to respond with the information they need,” Tucker said.

The person submits the requested information, but might wait nearly a year before the Department of Revenue informs them that the problem is resolved or it needs more information.

“Some of these cases have dragged on for seven or eight years,” Tucker said.

The proposed bill would let taxpayers request a refund or remove a proposed assessment if the state did not make a final determination within a reasonable amount of time.

“This just makes sure they’re getting these things resolved in a timely manner,” he said.