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By Rose Hoban
In meetings held late in the day Tuesday, lawmakers pushed through several bills that have ripple effects on health-related issues.
In the first bill that moved Tuesday evening, House lawmakers pushed through a bill easing regulations around fracking that came from the Senate this week after speeding through committee meetings in that chamber last week.
The bill would eliminate the moratorium on fracking in North Carolina, allowing for the process to be permitted as soon as 60 days after the House approves the rules that are being written by the Mining and Energy Commission. Those rules are due to the General Assembly on Jan 1.
The bill also makes it illegal for a physician treating a patient who’s been exposed to fracking fluid to disclose the amounts of any component in the brine. Physicians would be allowed to know what chemicals are in fracking fluid but would not know how much of each chemical was in the mix.
Opponents of the bill have expressed concern about parts of the legislation as well as the speed at which it’s being moved through the legislative process.
Tuesday evening’s committee meeting of the House Public Utilities and Energy Committee dispensed with the bill in less than 45 minutes. The bill’s next destination is the House Finance Committee, which was originally scheduled for Wednesday morning but has been moved. If the bill is passed through that committee Wednesday, it could see the House floor by the end of the week.
After House members passed an omnibus tax bill last week that levies a low tax on e-cigarettes, members of the Senate took at look at the same bill around the time most North Carolinians were finishing up their evening meals.
Members of the Senate Finance Committee reviewed the 54-page bill that includes provisions to tweak income taxes, sales taxes, taxes on entertainment and business taxes. Tucked into the back of the bill is a 5 cent tax per milliliter on the nicotine liquid used in electronic cigarettes, similar to language in the House bill.
Many concentrations of the nicotine liquid can provide as many as 20 smokes per milliliter.
But the Senate bill differs from the House version in that tax revenue from e-cigarettes will go into the General Fund instead of the University Cancer Research Fund, as other cigarette taxes currently do.
Sen. Josh Stein, (D-Raleigh) asked why e-cigarettes can’t be taxed similarly to the way other tobacco products are in the state. Currently, regular cigarettes are taxed at 45 cents per pack, while other tobacco products are taxed at 12.5 percent of their purchase price.
Only one state, Minnesota, has levied an excise tax on e-cigarettes. In that state, the tax is 95 percent of the wholesale price of e-cigarettes and the liquids burned in them.
Bill sponsor Sen. Bill Rabon (R-Southport) told Stein that perhaps in the future the legislature would consider taxing e-cigarettes similarly to other tobacco products. But he also talked about how Winston-Salem-based Reynolds American came to the legislature and asked for the 5 cent tax.
“Currently, they are not being taxed,” Rabon said. “It is a new product that hopefully will soon be manufactured in this state.”
Stein did not offer any amendments on e-cigarettes.
After the meeting, Sen. Austin Allran (R-Hickory) said there are still many unknowns about e-cigarettes.
“I wouldn’t want my children or anyone in my family using these products,” said Allran, who has been a long-time member of the Child Fatality Task Force. “They are being touted as a way of getting people off cigarettes. I don’t know if I really believe that. It may be that it’s just the opposite; it may be that it’s really a gateway.”