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A rundown of what the General Assembly is up to

This week in disappointment: DHHS comments on abortion bill, Durham is losing control 

I'll take Republican Obsessions With Vaginas for $1,000, Alex: Experts? We don't need no stinking experts! Experts from the state Department of Health and Human Services were not asked for their input on the regulatory issues in House Bill 695, which would make abortions essentially impossible to obtain in the state.

Had they been consulted, lawmakers would have learned that the department is concerned about parts of the bill and want it studied further. "I urge you to spend more time studying these issues and how North Carolina can best improve the health and safety for everyone," DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos told the House Health and Human Services committee on Tuesday.

While DHHS agrees with parts of the measure—including one that allows health care providers to exercise their moral and ethical beliefs in choosing whether to perform an abortion—Wos said the best way to improve safety at abortion clinics is to provide funding to the department to more frequently inspect the facilities. DHHS also needs time and resources to study regulations that have not been revisited since 1995.

DHHS has just 10 full-time staff to inspect not only abortion clinics but also other facilities, including dialysis centers, psychiatric hospitals and ambulatory surgery centers. It inspects the medical component of abortion clinics every three to five years, Wos said.

Drexdal Pratt, director of DHHS's Division of Health Service Regulation, said proposals in Section 6 of the bill can be widely interpreted. For example, a doctor would have to be physically present during the procedure. Pratt asked if that applied to both surgically and medicinally induced abortions. In drug-induced procedures, the medicine is given in three doses, three days apart. Pratt asked if a woman would have to return to facility for each dose. "There is no information if this would improve safety," he said.

If the bill becomes law, all but one abortion clinic in North Carolina, which is in an ambulatory surgery center in Asheville, would have to close. It would cost at least $1 million per clinic to upgrade to ambulatory surgery centers, excluding staff costs. "It could have legal implications if only one abortion clinic is open," Pratt said.

Even if Gov. Pat McCrory chooses not to sign the bill—and he has indicated he won't—it could become law without his signature. [See "Some facts about abortions in N.C."]

I'll take State Coups for $400, Alex: The House passed a third reading of Senate Bill 351, which usurps the power of Durham City Council to make local planning decisions regarding 751 South. The bill requires the city to annex the controversial proposed development and provide water and sewer to the 1,300 homes, plus retail businesses. Council voted twice to deny utility service to the far-flung 751, which is near Jordan Lake and the Chatham County line.

All of Durham's state lawmakers oppose the bill. Rep. Larry Hall tried to amend the measure three times to require Southern Durham Development to formally report on the number of jobs created, including those for minorities and Durham residents. "It's only appropriate since this is the first time we've gone against a local government. We need a record of promises made: What jobs were generated—we've heard 300 to 3,000—and what the economic benefits are," Hall said.

Rep. Tim Moore, a Republican from Cleveland County who is behind the 751 portion of the bill, nixed all of Hall's amendments, saying they "put a mandate on private business." The irony of that statement is almost painful.

(While Cleveland County is nearly 200 miles away and has an unemployment rate of 10 percent, Moore is concerning himself with a planning issue in Durham. Why? He is a buddy of the developer's lawyer.)

Rep. Mickey Michaux of Durham added, "I've been called a relic in this body, I've been here so long. One of the advantages of being a relic is that you learn what goes on in here. In the years I've been here, this is the first time I've ever seen [the legislature] ignore the wishes of a delegation and the city. You wouldn't appreciate it if anyone else did it in your community."

The bill passed 72–37 and heads back to the Senate for concurrence.

This article appeared in print with the headline "Let's play Jeopardy! with N.C.'s future."

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