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The Latest: Party recommendation on Senate vacancy approved

The General Assembly has decided new restrictions should be placed upon North Carolina's governor when naming someone to fill temporarily a U.S. Senate seat vacated by death or resignation

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Wednesday, June 13, 2018

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The Latest on the North Carolina legislature debating bills on dozen of topics as the session begins to wind down (all times local):

11 p.m.

The General Assembly has decided new restrictions should be placed upon North Carolina’s governor when the governor names someone to fill temporarily a U.S. Senate seat vacated by death or resignation.

The House gave final legislative approval Wednesday night to a measure requiring the governor to appoint someone from a list of three people recommended by the executive committee of the party with which the outgoing senator was affiliated.

Currently the governor only must choose someone affiliated with the same political party as the outgoing senator. The appointee will keep serving until the seat is open at the next scheduled statewide election.

The Senate approved the amendment Tuesday. The House vote was 71-39. Gov. Roy Cooper now must decide whether to sign the bill, veto it or let it become law without his signature.

9:25 p.m.

The North Carolina House has formally asked the Turkish government to release a North Carolina-based pastor from a prison there, saying he’s been unfairly charged and detained on accusations of spying or aiding terror groups.

The chamber voted unanimously Wednesday night on a resolution coming to the aid of Andrew Brunson, who is from Black Mountain and has been living in Turkey for more than 20 years as a Christian missionary. Brunson was formally arrested following a 2016 coup attempt in Turkey and wasn’t formally indicted until earlier this year.

U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis — the former state House speaker — has strongly pressed for Brunson’s release. Tillis visited him in prison and in May attended his trial, which is adjourned until July.

Resolution proponents told colleagues it was right to support Brunson in the name of religious freedom, due process and an independent judiciary.

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8:15 p.m.

Supporters of a health insurance bill say letting nonprofit groups in North Carolina offer plans will make coverage affordable for their members after years of spiraling premium increases elsewhere.

The Senate gave tentative approval Wednesday night to a measure that would allow longtime membership organizations to offer self-funded health benefit plans, of which state regulators would have little or no oversight.

North Carolina Farm Bureau and the NC Realtors have backed the proposal, presented as a solution to the shortcomings of the 2010 federal health care overhaul law supported by President Barack Obama.

It would be optional for these plans to cover pre-existing conditions for members. Republicans used a parliamentary maneuver to prevent a vote on an amendment by Democratic Sen. Gladys Robinson requiring coverage for pre-existing conditions. Still, four Democrats joined all Republicans in voting for the measure, which needs another vote Thursday to return to the House.

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6:55 p.m.

The North Carolina House has approved special protections for agribusiness from lawsuits filed by neighbors who complain their property is devalued by nuisances generated by new farm operations.

The farm protection legislation received initial approval Wednesday from the chamber after several changes that block virtually all nuisance lawsuits against farms. Another vote is required Thursday before it returns to the Senate, which passed a different version.

House members refused to remove language that protects even farm operations that operate with negligence from being held accountable. That proposal failed when Speaker Tim Moore cast the deciding vote.

Lawmakers in the country’s No. 2 hog-growing state have jumped to protect the politically influential pork industry after a federal jury in April punished Smithfield Foods with a nearly $51 million verdict. Smithfield is owned by Hong Kong-headquartered WH Group, which reported profits of nearly $1.1 billion last year.

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3:10 p.m.

Legislation to give city leaders of one North Carolina municipality the ability to review privately footage from a police officer’s body-worn camera appears dead after members from both parties opposed it in committee.

The sponsor of the House bill — which would only apply to the Asheville City Council — withdrew the measure Wednesday when it became clear it would be defeated.

A 2016 statewide law allows the family of someone who is the subject of camera footage to view the video. Other members of the public may ask a judge to release it.

Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer said giving authority to review footage privately means the council wouldn’t be caught off guard. Leaked camera footage in March showed an Asheville police officer choking a pedestrian. The officer has been charged.

Committee members said the proposal would begin to unravel a law designed to treat all situations the same statewide.

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11:45 a.m.

North Carolina legislators are moving bills rapidly through the halls of the General Assembly as Republicans aim to close the two-year session by the end of the month.

Both the House and Senate GOP leaders have said they want to approve their favored bills that could be subject to Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto by Friday. That would give time after to attempt to override vetoes and to debate proposed constitutional amendments, such as photo identification to vote.

A dozen committees scheduled meetings Wednesday, with floor debate expected into the evening. The Senate debated and voted for “technical corrections” to the new budget law that attempts to edit language opponents otherwise fear could doom a Durham-Orange light-rail project.

Bills addressing opioids, prison security and health insurance plans are on tap for debate.

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