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RALEIGH -- Start-and-stop efforts to revise a 1907 state law governing state-federal land jurisdiction stopped again Tuesday.
Slated for afternoon debate, discussion of House Bill 236 was postponed for the second time -- the victim of conflicting demands on House Speaker Jim Black's time.
As he entered the House for a 1 p.m. session, Black said a 3:30 p.m. town meeting in Greenville would cut the session short.
"This is my last one in the East," said Black.
HB 236 was one of only two bills on Tuesday's calendar. If it passes muster with the Legislature and the governor, the bill would reclaim for North Carolina property rights the state signed away to the federal government in 1907. General Statute 104-7 was passed to keep legislators from having to travel to Raleigh to convey jurisdiction each time land was acquired by the federal government. The law, say some, is outdated since it served as a convenience during a period of rapidly expanding federal projects in North Carolina -- the building of courthouses, post offices and the like.
Now, however, the stakes are higher, say proponents who contend the Legislature needs to have a say in large federal projects, such as a nuclear waste repository. The North Carolina mountains, at one time, were under consideration for such a project and could be again, some fear, if the Yucca mountain project in Nevada is disqualified.
Should a revision of G.S. 104-7 pass the House and Senate, it would go to Gov. Mike Easley for his signature. If the revision becomes law, it would restore state legislative oversight on federal land acquisitions -- through either purchase or condemnation -- on tracts larger than 25 acres.
Disgruntled residents from the area in Washington and Beaufort counties where the Navy wants to build an outlying landing field drove to Raleigh Tuesday to no avail for the second time. Instead of just heading back home, they chose to visit legislative staff and lobby lawmakers. One legislative observer said rumors had been circulating that HB 236 might remain stalled throughout the session.
However, Rep. Paul Luebke, D-Durham, and a sponsor of HB 236, indicated he would keep an eye on the process.
"If (bill supporters) hear anything like that, people should let me know," said Luebke as he joined colleagues on the floor.
Luebke explained the always-controversial push to pass a state lottery may complicate scheduling, as well. Many legislators reportedly are treading lightly until a lottery decision is made.
"I would bet it will be next Tuesday," said Black of the HB 236 discussion; he apologized for the inconvenience.
Second District Rep. Bill Culpepper of Edenton, who introduced the bill, said he's also confident it will get a hearing on Tuesday.
"Absolutely," he said, "unless the lottery changes things."
House leaders may think twice, however, before postponing the bill beyond Tuesday.
"It's kind of our big event," said Kathy Hartkopf, Citizens for a Sound Economy spokeswoman.
Between 500 and 600 members of CSE are expected to converge on Raleigh Wednesday. The annual event, staged on the lawn behind the Legislature and beside the Legislative Office Building, will offer members a chance next week to mingle with legislators during a presession luncheon.
"If you get 600 here," said Hartkopf, "you've got to know that's a drop in the bucket. But it's really more because we're a grassroots group; it's bringing those grassroots people to Raleigh to actually talk to their legislators."
The state chapter of CSE, say members, holds property rights in high regard. The chapter has become vocal in its support of Beaufort and Washington county residents battling the Navy to keep possession of their land. The Navy already has bought or condemned about 2,000 acres of more than 33,000 acres it seeks to build an OLF that would straddle the counties.
Although the topic is not formally on Wednesday's agenda, OLF opponents expect interest in the property rights aspects of the controversy to remain high.
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