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While state lawmakers won't get down to the real nitty-gritty until committee appointments are finalized in early to mid-February, a cavalcade of bills was introduced in the House and Senate this week.

First rush of bills tackle tricky issues 

Energy reform and "defense of marriage" on the table

While state lawmakers won't get down to the real nitty-gritty until committee appointments are finalized in early to mid-February, a cavalcade of bills was introduced in the House and Senate this week, including the much-anticipated Renewable Portfolio Standard (see www.indyweek.com/gyrobase/Content?oid=oid%3A43167).

State Sen. Charles Albertson, a Democrat who represents three southeastern counties, is the primary sponsor of SB 3. The bill largely mirrors a La Capra study, unveiled in December, that said the state could generate 10 percent to 14 percent of its power needs using energy efficiency and renewable energy while creating thousands of jobs—without significantly raising rates. Albertson's measure sets a goal of 1 percent in 2009, with annual increases reaching at least 10 percent by 2018.

State Sen. Janet Cowell is among the bill's co-sponsors. The Wake County Democrat says she supports renewables, but wants to focus on energy efficiency, especially for state-owned buildings.

"Renewable is important symbolically, but energy efficiency makes more sense economically," she says.

Cowell says state government, including universities and community colleges, rack up $300 million in utility bills each year. By converting to more efficient light bulbs, weatherstripping and using other energy efficiency measures, Cowell estimates the state could save upward of $30 million annually. Part of the fiscal challenge is financing the upfront energy efficiency costs. "It's all very doable, but we have to get into detail."

On the House side, state Rep. Pricey Harrison, a Democrat from Greensboro, plans to up the ante and co-sponsor a bill that would double the amount set out in the Senate version. State Rep. Grier Martin, a Wake Democrat, will likely sign on as well.

Harrison's bill would require the state to get 2 percent of its power from renewables and efficiency beginning in 2008, with a total of 20 percent by 2020.

"Global warming is a serious issue and the world realizes we have an environmental and health crisis on our hands," Harrison says.

While wind power would likely have to be generated inland because coastal residents balk at the idea of turbines and a Ridge Law limits what can be erected on mountaintops, the state's ample supply of poultry and hog waste—N.C. is known as the Saudi Arabia of biomass—could be a source of renewable energy.

The utilities are already resisting these goals; in public comments submitted to the N.C. Utilities Commission about the La Capra study, Progress Energy Carolinas and Duke Energy Carolinas were skeptical of the study's methodology, arguing it was "simplified" and didn't use "comprehensive utility planning models," and asked that the legislature assure the utility it could quickly recover any upfront costs in meeting the goals.

To read public comments, go to www.ncuc.commerce.state.nc.us/rps/rps.htm.

Shackin' up is hard to do

Republican state Sen. James Forrester of Stanley sponsored SB 13, the Defense of Marriage Act, which, if passed, would require a statewide referendum on whether to amend the N.C. Constitution to define marriage as "a union of one man and one woman at a time." The measure would also outlaw civil unions and domestic partnerships.

The bill's most obvious targets are gay and lesbian couples, but since its language is so broad it could easily apply to heterosexuals.

"It's an attempt to appeal to the Republican base rather than to address real problems facing North Carolina," says Ian Palmquist, executive director of Equality NC. "It's being used as a wedge issue."

Eighteen senators, including Wake County Republican Neal Hunt, co-sponsored the bill, which is identical to one that was introduced in the 2005-06 session and died unceremoniously in committee.

"It doesn't have a chance of passing," says Hunt, adding the bill was introduced "for the record."

Inserting such language into the state constitution would prevent North Carolina judges from allowing same-sex partners to marry, although Hunt acknowledged there is no judicial movement afoot to sanction such relationships.

(Read more about this issue in this week's Exile on Jones Street.)

Thank you for not smoking

HB 24 would prohibit smoking in buildings owned, leased or occupied by the state government. Violators could be fined up to $25—less than the price of a carton of cigarettes.

When an ankle bracelet isn't enough

Certain types of registered sexual offenders would be tracked by global-positioning satellites under HB 29. That means you, if you take photos of minors having sex. Under HB 27, wholesale film processors, photo finishers or computer technicians who encounter images of minors engaging in sexual activity would be required to report the customer's name to police and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The motivations behind the bill are genuine, but expect wrangling over its wording, which could be open to interpretation: "applying contemporary community standards" and "lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific standards."

You can keep up with bill status at www.ncga.state.nc.us.

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