– In a 66-44 vote, the House gave final approval to legislation that would set fees for emissions and safety inspections in 48 North Carolina counties at maximum of $34. The fee bill follows 1999 legislation that would expand emissions testing from nine to 48 counties by 2006. The emissions testing program is part of the state’s efforts to reduce air pollution and keep in compliance with federal regulations. Motorists in the nine urban counties where both emissions testing already takes place now pay $19.40. Safety inspections in counties where emissions tests aren’t required would also eventually rise from $9.25 to $16. The bill now moves to the Senate for consideration.
– The House rejected a measure designed to help unaffiliated candidates and third parties remain on North Carolina’s ballots after some worried it would hurt the major parties. The measure, which already passed the Senate, would have reduced the number of petition signatures the state requires to get an unaffiliated candidate on the ballot. It also would have lengthened the time for a third party to participate in an upcoming statewide election. Rep. Mickey Michaux, D-Durham, said the Green Party sued over the threshold last year and more lawsuits could be on the way if the regulations aren’t changed. GOP members said the bill if passed would make it easier for smaller political groups to take more votes away from the major parties. Sixteeen Democrats joined 55 Republicans in defeating the bill 45-71.
– Conservatives who oppose tax increases rallied at the Legislature, calling on lawmakers not to use the state’s financial crisis as an excuse to raise taxes. About 200 members of Citizens for a Sound Economy attended the rally, also urging lawmakers to reject a state lottery and provide protections against unwanted municipal annexations. The event followed rallies last month by advocates for the poor and disabled urging tax increases rather than sharp cuts in state services. A Senate budget plan approved last week includes some targeted tax increases on services like out-of-state long distance and spending cuts to social programs.