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NC lawmakers stay late to help bills beat deadline

RALEIGH (AP) — The North Carolina House worked into the wee hours Thursday to wrap up a marathon week after passing scores of bills before a deadline designed to separate what lawmakers consider the best ideas from the rest of the pack.

The House returned shortly after midnight to take up more than 20 bills before adjourning two hours later. The bills addressed restricting dangerous exotic animals, speeding in work zones and giving more American Indians the right to hunt and fish without licenses.

The chamber passed nearly 50 pieces of legislation Wednesday. The Senate approved more than 40 bills Wednesday and will return later Thursday morning for more work.

Why the rush? The two chambers have operating rules stating that bills unrelated to taxes, fees or spending had to clear the House or Senate no later than Thursday. The bills left over are essentially dead until 2017, although some lawmakers can try to work around the rules.

Here are some bills that met the deadline or fell short overnight:

EXOTIC ANIMALS: A statewide ban on the possession, sale or breeding of dangerous exotic animals like lions, hyenas, bears and some types of monkeys cleared the House.

The measure, approved 79-33 and heading to the Senate, also would make it a crime for anyone to let a member of the public come into direct physical contact with such an animal. Current owners of these animals would be exempt from the restrictions, but they would have to register with the local animal control authority and show proof of liability insurance. The prohibitions also wouldn’t apply to accredited zoos, licensed laboratories, circuses and other institutions.

The Humane Society of the United States lobbied for the bill in North Carolina, which is one of only six states without a statewide law regulating keeping such animals, according to Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson, a bill sponsor.

INSURED MOPEDS: The state House approved a measure that would require moped operators to buy liability insurance. The General Assembly has been weighing for years how best to regulate the low-speed, low-cost scooters to improve traffic safety. Last year, lawmakers said owners starting this summer must provide paperwork showing the vehicle is built to meet moped standards and pay a fee.

Supporters say operators should take enough personal responsibility to buy insurance that would repair damage they could cause in an accident. Opponents said it’s not clear whether insurers would issue coverage and at what price. The bill was approved 81-32 late Wednesday and now goes to the Senate.

CHIROPRACTOR CO-PAYS: A majority in the House believes state-regulated insurance companies should set the co-payments to see a chiropractor at a rate no higher than the rate to visit a primary care physician. The bill seeks to restore co-pay parity between two groups of providers in place briefly several years ago but was repealed. Chiropractors are usually covered at the higher co-pay rate for specialists.

The bill passed 68-43 late Wednesday after committee debate this week in which House members extolled the benefits they’ve received from chiropractic care. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina opposed the parity mandate, suggesting it would lead to higher premiums. The proposal wouldn’t apply to the state employee and teacher health insurance plan.

INDIAN LICENSE: The state’s American Indians would be exempt from having to buy a license to hunt, trap or fish inland anywhere in the state in a measure approved by the House. A current exemption is only provided for tribal lands.

SPEED BUMPS: A bill limiting when law enforcement could issue additional $250 fines to motorists stopped for speeding in work zones got turned into a legislative study on the topic. And another measure addressing decision-making by insurance companies on which prescription drugs they’ll cover and when got pulled early Thursday when the bill sponsor suggested it may not pass on the floor.

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