By Susan Dickson
CHAPEL HILL â€“Â Reflecting on the 2011-12 General Assembly session that wrapped up last week, Orange Countyâ€™s elected delegation painted a pretty bleak picture at the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerceâ€™s annual State Legislative Briefing, held Tuesday morning at Chapel Hill Country Club.
The 100 percent Democratic delegation â€“ the norm in our left-leaning county â€“ talked about everything from university funding to health care to fracking. The N.C. General Assemblyâ€™s 2011-12 session â€“ one of the legislatureâ€™s short sessions, following the longer 2010-11 session â€“ adjourned on July 2.
â€œThe trends for UNC are not good for this two years,â€ Rep. Joe Hackney said, noting that the funding cut from the university system in 2010-11 was not restored in 2011-12 as hoped and that financial aid money was also reduced sharply.
â€œThe trend is more toward higher tuition and more reliance on tuition,â€ he continued. â€œThere is much less reliance on keeping us on top. â€¦ That translates into more emphasis on cost cutting.â€
â€œThere is much less emphasis on everyone having the opportunity to attend,â€ Hackney added.
Rep. Bill Faison focused his words to the business crowd on hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking â€“ a controversial procedure for extracting natural gas â€“ which he said he heard many concerns about while traveling the state campaigning for governor.
In a late-night vote at the close of the session last week, the legislature overrode Gov. Beverly Perdueâ€™s veto of a bill that would allow fracking.
â€œIt is, in my view, not a good idea to have fracking in this state at this time,â€ Faison said. â€œWhatever benefit there could be â€¦ is overwhelmed by the detriment to our environment.â€
Faison said he introduced several amendments to the fracking bill that would have limited the power of corporations with regard to fracking in the state, including one that would prevent the modification of trespass laws.
Because of the nature of fracking â€“ drilling straight down and then horizontally â€“ Faison said the rights of property owners need to be protected such that companies canâ€™t go underneath their property.
In states where fracking has already been legalized, â€œit was very clear that trespass laws were eroded very quickly by the oil and gas industries in those states,â€ he added.
Sen. Ellie Kinnaird spoke in support of B Corporations, which failed to receive approval in the past two sessions of the General Assembly. B Corps are a new type of corporation that blends social and environmental responsibility with fiscal sustainability.
â€œIt is something that is sweeping the nation,â€ she said.
Kinnaird said that when the matter was presented to the House, having passed in the Senate, presenters used the words â€œsustainabilityâ€ and â€œsocial benefit,â€ which, she said, were the â€œwrong wordsâ€ in the eyes of far right-leaning legislators, who called such corporations a threat to American free enterprise.
Nonetheless, Kinnaird said she hopes to bring the matter back in next yearâ€™s session, and hopes the debate will stay more on topic.